Sunday, July 27, 2008


While vacationing in Great Britain 10 years ago, I bought tea towels as souvenirs for the folks at home. But because I loved each one so much, I ended up keeping at least half of them. One in particular was my favorite. My daughter in law suggested that I frame it and so I did. Imagine my surprise later when browsing through a volume of Gardeners Art Through the Ages and discovering that my favorite tea towel was a copy of a famous piece of stitchery sewn shortly after 1066 and the Battle of Hastings.

I avidly read everything Gardner's had to say about my tea towel. Later, while a student of art history I choose the Bayeux Tapestry as the subject of the required term paper.

If you are not already familiar with this 230 foot long by 20 inch high piece of linen artwork then please allow me to introduce you. While it is known as a tapestry it is in reality embroidered. It was commissioned by Bishop Odo, the French half-brother of William the Conqueror. It is widely agreed that even though the Frenchman, Odo commission the work, English hands did the sewing and probably the design as well. After 900 years, this embroidery is the only remaining example of its kind. It is treasured for its historic as well as it's artistic value.

As a historic document, it is a source of information on the detail of everyday life during the medieval period. It offers a rich source of pictorial and written information about the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings. It records information about armor, boats, clothes and even the hair styles of the English vs the Norman soldiers, the appearance of Halley's Comet in the spring of 1066 and Westminster Abbey, etc.

The hand of God, pointing down towards the recently built Westminster Abbey,
symbolizes its consecration which took place on December 28, 1065.

But while the English designer followed his command from Odo to create a retelling of the events that lead to the Norman conquest of England, some art historians believe that the designer also included subtle indications that, while carrying out the letter of Odo's commission, he put an English interpretation on certain key events.

This panel shows a group of people watching Halley's Comet as it passes over London. In the following scene the appearance of the evil omen in the heavens is reported to King Harold.

The figures and designs along the borders of the Tapestry have long puzzled historians as to their exact meaning. Some believe that these mythical creatures deserve a deeper look. The artist used combinations of animals from contemporary fables of the day. These figures may have been a way for the designer to comment on the action taking place in the main field. The meaning would have been clear for the English viewer since he was familiar with the connotations connected with the fables the figures represented. For the French viewer these meanings may have meant nothing. It is not clear what these motifs are meant to portray, but it is clear that they are not decorative only.

William the Conqueror crosses the Channel with his ships and men.

It is certainly an intriguing thought that a conquered people would attempt to include their own interpretation of the event, that was to change the rule of England for the next 300 years of Norman domination, in the Tapestry that they created.

This panel depicts scenes of the battle in which King Harold's brothers are slain in
hand to hand combat. Notice the fallen men that lie in the bottom border.

Embroidered on the last panel are the words "and the English fled". Many believe that
while this is the last remaining panel, there was once a final scene showing Normans
occupying English towns while the inhabitants pay homage to William as King.

Today, you can visit the Bayeux Tapestry in the town of Bayeux in Normandy, France.


  1. This was a great post! I have always been intrigued by this tapestry and would love to see it in person some day. My favorite section is the part displaying the comet.

    There used to be a website where you could construct your own tapestry page by clicking and dragging copies of the images from the tapestries to create your own. I had fun playing with it.

  2. Willow, I would love to see it too! I was only 11 miles from it when our tour group visited Arromache, and Omaha beach in Normandy. But there was no time for a side trip. I guess that is as close as I will ever get. To be so close but not be able to see it was heartbreaking.

  3. This is so interesting as I never heard of this tapestry before and I'm amazed by it's history and significance. It's fascinating!

    There is an extension of the Metropolitan Museum in uptown Manhattan called The Cloisters which is filled with medieval art -- you would love the tapestries there!

  4. Pat, I'm putting the Cloisters on my list of stuff to do and see if I ever make it to New York. Thanks to you, I will have to have a month to see everything you've told me about so far!

  5. Stieviewren, you are quite the world traveler and I do so enjoy hearing all about your journeys and points of interest. Funny how something as simple as a tea towel is a fascinating treasure after all...a wonderfully interesting post...

  6. I really enjoyed this post and reading about the Bayeux Tapestry. You were quite clever to get your tea-towel framed - it looks fantastic, by the way. Yours depicts the battle, does it not?

    I'm wishing now I had done the same thing with my Viking towel.

    I love the piece with William crossing the Channel.

    If I ever go to Normandy, I will certainly make an effort to see this.

    Thanks for enlightening us,


  7. This was really interesting! Aren't you glad you framed it so nicely instead of getting spaghetti sauce stains all over it? :)

  8. As usual, a great post. I love how you talk about things you like, then give a history lesson. Awesome! Have a great week.

  9. Wonderful post.. so interesting to read about its story and see how the images were part of that. Very cool. Pat's mention of the Cloisters gallery reminds me that I was there about 30 years ago when I saw and fell in love with a series of unicorn tapestries.. particularly one called "Unicorn in Captivity." I was so taken with it that I had a friend draw the basic image on a tightly woven rug canvas, and I hooked the appropriate colours of wool into it. I'm wondering about whatever happened to that rug now.. hmmm.

  10. Oh, thank you for this post! I got to see this in person back when I visited France in 1991( gosh has it been that long ago?) and will never forget that it seemed to go on forever. It was fascinating in every way. My, this brings back memories!.. Steviewren, I can relate to not getting to see things that you want to. I didn't get to Giverny because we didn't have enough time :-(...

  11. The Battle of Hastings, Halleys Comet, The Bayeux Tapestry.....I had these facts drummed into my head during History classes at school...and have never forgotten them.

  12. HI! Great post! I love its!
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  13. Steviewren,
    What an awesome post; I love it.. so interesting and filled with history. Just my kind of things. I wish I had at least one of those tapestries hanging on my wall, if only I could make room... :) good to hear from you!
    The Bach

  14. Gosh, if I had tea towels like this, I'd never get any dishes done, being far too busy daydreaming and studying my tea towel!

  15. Rebecca, you are my hero! You lucky dog! I am so envious. WOW! Were you on a tour or was it a personal pick on a vacation you planned yourself?

    The only thing I regret about the trips I was able to go on was the lack of time to sit and soak it all in. You've got to keep moving in order to see maximum sights in the alloted time.

  16. Steviewren - "Lions and Tigers and Bears...Oh my!" is a line Dorthy speaks in the Wizard of OZ. Thanks for stopping by my friend! Strider

  17. Utterly fascinating. I would love to see this in person some day, as our friend Rebecca has.

    Can you imagine a similar tapestry today? People had such picturesque occupations back really, who would want to look at a tapestry filled with people sitting at desks......

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