It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming…the tapestry is coming home. The Bayeux Tapestry is heading back to British shores, for the first time in almost 1000 years, and you need to put 2022 in your diary right now if you want to see this famous piece of history up close and personal.
OK, the opening line might not have the ring or the emotion of the football song we all love to chant right now but the arrival in England of this famous medieval artwork is a pretty big deal, even if it won’t get the crowds at the airport that Messrs Southgate, Kane et al. can expect if they return as World Cup winners.
The Bayeux Tapestry remains one of the main sources of information about one of the biggest events in English and European history. The epic struggle between William, Duke of Normandy and Harold Godwinson for the throne of England ended in a famous battle and a change of administration that would have far-reaching consequences here and on the continent. The mammoth artwork, measuring nearly 70 metres in total, is a contemporary account – albeit, one created by the winners.
The tapestry is kept in the museum which bears its name in Bayeux, and it is made up of nine panels of linen, embroidered with wool yarn, which were sewn together after each had been completed. They tell the story of the Norman Conquest, starting with the meetings between the two men where William said Harold had promised to support his claim to the English crown and culminating in the Battle of Hastings. The embroidered depiction of Harold receiving an arrow in the eye at this famous fight remains one of the best-known portrayals of a moment that changed England and Western Europe forever.
The tapestry is also a historical event in its own right. The more romantic tellings of its origins suggest it was commissioned by William the Conqueror’s wife, Matilda of Flanders, to show her husband’s triumph in all its glory. Modern historians tend to prefer the theory that it was, in fact, William’s half-brother, Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, who ordered the tapestry to be made with the work being carried out by nuns in Kent – one of the cleric’s power bases.
However, even if it was completed in England, it soon headed to France. It’s listed in an inventory of Bayeux Cathedral in 1476, and it’s not left French shores since. Not even a request to mark the 900th anniversary of the Norman Conquest in 1966 with a visit to Britain could persuade its custodians to let it travel overseas. The furthest the tapestry has gone in centuries is Paris. Now all that is set to change.
Earlier in 2018, it was confirmed that the tapestry would be allowed to leave Bayeux and travel to England and today we learned that it would finally arrive here in 2022. The details of where it will be displayed, and for how long, are still to be revealed but it’s already expected to be one of the most popular exhibitions of the recent past. It’s coming home, it’s coming home…..