Our trip to Bayeux

We left Rouen this morning. I wish we had stayed a while longer … the Tour de France was scheduled to pass through town this afternoon! But that would mean closed streets and big crowds. (Speaking of streets, they were covered last night in newspapers, apparently in protest over the closing of a local independent paper.)

Our destination today was Bayeux, home of the famous Bayeux Tapestry, a unique piece of embroidery dating back to the 11th century.

Housed in a museum that occupies a former seminary, the tapestry depicts the events leading up to the conquest of England by William, the Duke of Normandy, in 1066. Some of the tapestry’s most striking scenes depict the epic Battle of Hastings.

It is an incredibly impressive work. First, it is enormous – some 230 feet long. It is also elaborate, not only in its themes but in its use of many different-colored threads and four different stitch techniques.

While there are competing theories about who commissioned the work, and about who actually performed it, it’s generally agreed it took about three years to complete. Not quite as efficient a way to report on events as the newspapers we saw last night, but definitely a more beautiful one!

We switched gears, but not time periods, as we left the museum and made our way to the Cathedral Notre Dame de Bayeux, the tapestry’s first home in France, consecrated about the same time the tapestry was completed.

The cathedral was introduced to us by our tour guide as being “more beautiful from the distance.” I have to agree. I remember our visit to the church of Grimbergen Abbey last week, where the exterior seemed almost purposely plain, the better to highlight the stunning interior.  But in the case of the Cathedral Notre Dame de Bayeux, it’s clear a dramatic first impression was intended. As you approach this Norman-Romanesque structure, you’re dazzled by the soaring, delicately carved spires and the intricate stained glass windows.

It is fascinating to think that this masterpiece was being built even as war was raging to the north, and that the war itself would spur the creation of another masterpiece, the Bayeux Tapestry.

The temptation is to romanticize these long-past wars; but tomorrow, on July 4, we’ll be reminded of the truth about them, when we visit the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

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