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July 27, 2011

A Day in Bayeux, France

by Anne Paddock
Bayeux, France is a small city with about 14,000 residents, 30 kilometers from Caen and 10 kilometers from the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial (Cimetiere USA). The town is charming on foot but some of that charm is lost if you’re in a car trying to maneuver through narrow one way streets that seem to keep you going in circles. Best to follow signs to the center of town, park and explore the town on foot.  There are two sites to see in Bayeux:
  1. The Cathedrale Notre-Dame of Bayeux
  2. The Bayeux Tapestry
The Cathedrale Notre-Dame of Bayeux
The Cathedrale Notre-Dame of Bayeux is also known as the Bayeux Cathedral and is a national monument of France.  Built in the mid-11th century, the cathedral was consecrated in 1077 and was the original home of the Bayeux Tapestry.  It was here that King William forced Harold Godsinson to take an oath, the breaking of which led William the Bastard to lead the Norman conquest of England. These three men:  King William of England, Harold Godsinsonan English Earl, and William the Bastard, ruler of Normandy are the main characters in this historical story.

Kathedrale Notre Dame de Bayeux ,Normandie,FrankreichThe Cathedral is located on Pl de Charles de Gaulle but be forewarned there are two streets called Pl de Charles de Gaulle in Bayeux:  one running north and south and the other east and west. To complicate a drive further, parts of both streets are one way.  Look to the sky to see the location of the cathedral or follow street signs. There is no specific website for the cathedral but information is available from www.bessinnormandie.com.  Guided tours are available for a small fee.

The Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry is a 70 meter (232 feet) long tapestry sewn in 1077 that tells the story of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 (the French version).  Before you completely zone out on this story thinking it will be dull, read further. There are 58 scenes and the story is gripping. This is the short version:

King Edward of England who is also known as Edward the Confessor sends one of his key supporters, Harold, an Earl (who represents the Saxons) to Normandy to tell William the Bastard that William will become King of England when Edward dies as he has no children. Harold gets lost and is then kidnapped along the way but eventually makes it to Normandy, sees William, pledges his allegiance to William when he succeeds to the throne of England, and then returns to England.  When Harold gets back to England, he finds out that Edward has died and seizes the opportunity crowning himself king, thus breaking his oath to William.

William gets royally ticked off and decides to invade England and fight what is known as the Battle of Hastings, kills Harold, and is consequently crowned William the Conquerer and the New King of England.  This is how William the Bastard becomes William the Conquerer.

Bayeux Tapestry - Battle of HastingsThe tapestry was moved in 1983 and installed at the “Musee de la Tapisserie de Bayeux” in the center of the town.  The tapestry is actually a long embroidered cloth with annotated Latin that is displayed lengthwise around the walls in a glass enclosed frame in a dark room to protect the tapestry from sunlight.  The museum is open nearly every day of the year from 9:30-6:00.  Check the website listed below for specifics. The audio tour of the tapestry takes approximately 30-45 minutes but it’s easy to linger and stay longer because the tapestry and the story it depicts are utterly fascinating.

Musee de la Tapisserie de Bayeux
13 Rue de Nesmond
14400 Bayeux
02 31 51 25 50
www.tapisseriebayeux.fr

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