History can be brought alive in so many ways. The Bayeux Tapestry does it through embroidery – get this: it is a 230-foot-long hand sewn depiction of the years 1064-1066 in British history, wherein 626 people, 190 horses and mules, 541 birds and other animals, 33 buildings, 37 ships, and 57 Latin inscriptions are included to tell the story of the Norman Invasion of Britain. It was a phenomenal object to see! Imagine one piece of art stretching across 23 standard (10-foot) rooms.
A little back history: apparently, in 1051, the King of England, Edward the Confessor, told William the Conqueror (at the time, William the Bastard) that his desire was to see William become king when he (Edward) died. Edward had no children, and succession was decided jointly by the king and his council. Edward’s brother-in-law, Harold, had sworn to honor Edward’s wishes, but he usurped the crown as soon as Edward died. William arrived from France to fight for the throne. In the battle of Hastings in 1066, Harold was struck dead by an arrow in the eye, and William became king.
We never thought about how the tapestry would look. In fact, we both approached the museum with a desire to see the tapestry because we had learned about it in school and read about it, but thought it would be kind of boring, a tapestry on a wall that we wouldn’t understand too well. However, it was one of the most fascinating museums we had ever been to. The scenes are numbered, and an audio guide leads you through each scene, what is happening, and points out things to take note of. You walk slowly past this 900+ year old relic, taking it all in, realizing that its design and completion took many years of labor. In fact, recently, a history fanatic embroidered his own version of the tapestry. It took him 18 years to create one that was 40 feet long. The original is 230 feet long!
We are calling it a tapestry, as that has been its name for a millennium. In truth, it is not woven, but embroidered, which has led art historians to call it the Bayeux Embroidery. But that is ridiculous, and nobody refers to it that way. Even the museum where it is housed is called the Museum of the Bayeux Tapestry.
Due to its fragile nature, photos were not permitted. But viewing the tapestry is very moving. In addition to all of the historical scenes, there are animals running along the top and bottom. During the battle, dead soldiers and even decapitated soldiers are shown lying in the dirt. It shows the first known depiction of Halley’s Comet. As they say during the narration, this is a documentary on a piece of cloth. We are just gobsmacked, and in a very real way, we feel privileged and humbled to have been allowed to view a Masterpiece of History (and a medieval version of a Wikipedia article).