Bayeux Tapestry to Quilt By Pam Holland

Five miles from the coast at Arromanches, in the gently shelving valley of the River Aure, lies the historic Norman town of Bayeux. I had arrived there the previous night. Exhausted from the stress of driving in a foreign country in a car on the wrong side of the road. I slept fitfully, aware of the magnitude of the history I was about to encounter.

I looked out of the window as the sun rose and I had to pinch myself to make sure this wasn't a dream

First morning view.

War has touched Bayeux, but not scarred it. A ring road circumscribes the old centre, like a protective wall, and within its confines lies a network of shadowy streets and old stone buildings; and here and there the late-medieval frontage of a half-timbered house protrudes into the sunlight, as if it had emerged unwittingly out of the past into the present.

Just walking the streets.
Scenes in the city of Bayeux.

At the centre of the town rises the enormous cathedral, a Gothic masterpiece built upon a Romanesque shell, its stark western towers, completed in the days of William the Conqueror, still soaring above the family of little houses gathered closely around its base.

But it is not the cathedral, remarkable as it is, that every year draws half a million visitors to Bayeux. They come to see one of the most famous, intricate and mysterious works of art that has ever been made.

Signs directing you to this masterpiece are dotted around the centre of the town. They are marked with a single descriptive word, in French and in English: 'Tapisserie.Tapestry'.

Here, in Bayeux, anything else would be redundant. The route marked 'Tapestry' takes you along these narrow streets, under the eves of ancient houses and beneath the angular shadows of the cathedral.

Ancient buildings opposite the Bayeux Cathedral.

It passes by shops selling every item that can possibly be embossed with images of the Bayeux Tapestry, from mugs to mouse pads, tea towels to T-shirts.

You may pause to recall the conquering exploits of Duke William of Normandy under the pale green awning of the Restaurant Le Guillaume or remember his wife, Queen Matilda, at the Hotel de la Reine Mathilde.

Not far away a crepe may be consumed at the somewhat more alarmingly branded Creperie Les Pates 'Ouaintes.

The journey takes you past these establishments and along the Rue de Nesmond until you reach a sizeable seventeenth-century building that was turned into a museum in the early 1980s.

During the course of its long and dangerous history, the Bayeux Tapestry has been kept, and sometimes concealed, in several places in and around the town of Bayeux. This building is its modern home.

Your eyes narrow at the museum's gate. Rain puddles scattered around the courtyard reflect the sun's fresh glare like so many broken panes of glass. A party of English schoolchildren has gathered in front of the door, a posse of noisy chatter, scuffed heels and clipboard assignments gripped with an innocent disregard.

Two hundred yards away, Bayeux Cathedral is a silent witness to your journey, a stone silhouette imposed on a bright and changing weather changing day.

I found the Museum Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde I was nervous about going in and it reminded me of the time I first saw the original 1776 quilt in Germany. 8 Euros paid and I was in. There is a long introduction to the history of the Tapestry and I walked through the exhibition and read but I have been studying this for over a year now and will could write a book of my own. So I continued on to the movie which told the story in detail of William the Conqueror and his friend and enemy Harold and the Battle of Hastings in October 1066.

It showed the very straight of water that I travelled on yesterday 1000’s of Williams soldiers valiantly rowed against the wind. The largest of the boats was 50 ft. They carried their provisions, their armory and 100’s of horses. It was an amazing feat. Both crossings that I have encountered have been like a millpond, but they encountered terrible storms. It took me 6 hours on the Ferry, it took them several days.

After the movie, you are ushered into the Tapestry. It’s in a long tunnel that is darkened except for soft lighting over the Tapestry itself. 236 feet in length.

The Bayeux Tapestry.

I joined the throng. They pushed past so fast, so I hung on to the rail and refused to budge. 100’s of people passed behind me. Everyone had their own commentary, most were too loud and caused a mixture of sound. I didn’t use mine and just took in every inch of the Tapestry, moving very slowly and at times I was alone and in silence which I relished. I think the allotted time to view is about an hour. I took 4, and I went back to the beginning several times.

This is what I came to see. I was overawed. My heart beat fast and I can't explain the feeling I had on that first occasion. Subsequent visits have also evoked the same feelings, but now I put in my own noise cancelling earphones and listen to my medieval music. I set my own pace and place.

I was exhausted and all I could think of was to get in the car and drive. I didn't know where I was going, I just drove.

Created By
pam holland


 Created and  photographed by Pam Holland