The Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered linen cloth that is nearly 230 feet long, and depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England, famous warriors, and the ultimate Battle of Hastings.
It is said that it dates to the 11th century, and most scholars agree that it was made in England.
The tapestry is miraculous because it has survived almost intact for over nine centuries.
It fascinates restoration experts and admirers for it’s subject matter, workmanship, coloring and condition.
The tapestry’s earliest known recognition comes in the form of a 1476 inventory of Bayeux Cathedral.
French legend says the tapestry was commissioned by Queen Matilda, William the Conqueror’s wife, and her ladies-in-waiting.
Analysis and research of this time period conclude that it was probably commissioned by Bishop Odo, William’s half brother.
It is said it was possibly commissioned to coincide with the building of the cathedral for display at the dedication.
There are many theories about who ordered the design of such a large work of art.
The tapestry is actually an embroidery, not a tapestry, which is woven into a piece of cloth. It is crewel wool yard on a woven linen.
The colors used in the tapestry were primarily terracotta, dull gold, blue, olive, sage green and later repairs worked in orange and lighter tones.
It used two different types of stitch, an outline stitch for lettering and outlines of the figures, and laid work for filling in figures and other larger objects.
Nine panels were sewn together after each work was embroidered, and the merging was hidden with added embroidery.
The colors and quality of the tapestry have stayed true to origin, as compared to a careful drawing made of the work of art in 1730.
It has been repaired and reworked on many occasions to keep it in good condition.
Events on the tapestry were woven in a long series of scenes that were separated by stylized trees.
The end panel of the tapestry is missing.
A linen backing was sewn on the tapestry and in 1800, large numerals were written on the backing to categorize the scenes for reference, which is still used today by scholars and researchers to this day.
The tapestry tells a complicated history, but basically it is a series of pictures that tells the tale of the events that led to the Battle of Hastings, a battle between Harold Godwinson, King of England, and William, Duke of Normandy and their armies, for land, power and the throne.
The tale is complicated, and depicted with all of the intrigue of history as the human drama plays out in embroidery, unfolding in 230 feet of history.
Tituli, which is a Latin word box, was used near figures or scenes to point out important people, dates or descriptions.
The tapestry and its scenes are studied, photographed, recorded and debated to this day.
The tapestry has had several interesting historic issues.
During the French Revolution, it was confiscated as public property and used to cover military wagons. It was rescued by a lawyer who hid it away until the terror was over, and it made it’s way to Paris for proper display.
It was returned to Bayeux after Napoleon’s downfall and went on display. During World War II, it was taken to the Louvre in Paris by the Germans, days before Paris was taken back by the Allies, and the Germans were never able to move it, although the SS had been ordered to seize it fro the Louvre and take it to safety.
After the liberation of Paris, the tapestry was put on public display in the Louvre, but in 1945 made it’s way back to Bayeux, where it was put in the Musee de la Tapisserie de Bayeux.
Several interesting things to note about the tapestry are that there is some rumour that Medieval nuns embroidered the tapestry, although there is no proof of this in historical records.
The tapestry also has intriguing depictions within it’s stitch work, including a depiction of Haley’s comet, which would have been around during the coronation of Harold, in 1066.
Comets were said to be a bad omen.
The tapestry also has two missing panels and no one knows what happened to them.
The Bayeux Tapestry will go on display in England in 2022, the first time in over 950 years it has left France.
People are fascinated by the size, grandeur, historical representation and workmanship of the tapestry.
Scholars and restoration experts are amazed at the condition that it is still maintaining, considering the battles, intrigue and wars that it has seen and endured.
The miracle that is the Bayeux Tapestry is still with us today, surviving over nine centuries of human drama, depicting historical accounts and fascinating viewers with beauty, which is in the artistic hand of the original embroiderers of this amazing work of art.
(Editor’s note: DeeDee Wood is the store manager at Tharpe Antiques, in Easton, part of the Talbot Historical Society.)