The Bayeux Tapestry


We went from Caen to Bayeux on a sunny Sunday afternoon in October. It took less than half an hour by train.

Bayeux is smaller than Caen, and perfectly beautiful. The medieval church towered over the city – we could see it from the train station – but we didn’t want to waste time, so we took a cab directly to the Tapestry Museum.

The Bayeux Tapestry is a miracle. It is a piece of linen seventy-five yards long and maybe a yard high, which (maybe, but probably not, but it’s charming to think so) Queen Matilda and her ladies stitched as a memorial to Matilda’s husband William the Conqueror’s triumph over Harold II of England.

Partner and I were very lucky; very few people were in the museum that day. We were given an audioguide, which normally I hate, but which in this case was invaluable: it narrated the entire tapestry, and kept us moving from panel to panel.

The story is very absorbing: Harold knows that his brother-in-law Edward the Confessor wants William of Normandy to be his successor, and agrees to carry the news to him in France. William is delighted, but suspicious, and makes Harold swear in Caen Cathedral that he’ll recognize William as the successor. Edward dies, and – guess what? – Harold takes the crown. William takes arms and sails across the channel and meets Harold at Hastings. Harold is killed, with an arrow in the eye. William is victorious.

The whole thing is there on the tapestry. But you really have to see it.

The tapestry is gorgeous. The people are beautifully depicted, and there are even captions, and even footnotes: small pictures tucked away under the main story. There’s a naked man about halfway through, and I’m not sure what he’s supposed to be all about, but he’s very amusing.

Later, in the gift shop, I picked up a cute book called “Le tapisserie de Bayeux en bande dessinée”: “The Bayeux Tapestry as a comic strip.”

It’s already a comic strip.

It’s just a very serious comic strip.

The French expression, “bande dessinée,” is better than our “comic strip.” Our expression implies that the content is funny or at least amusing. The French expression just means “drawn strip.”

The story told by the Bayeux Tapestry is wonderful and beautiful, but it’s not one bit funny. It’s a terrible story of a terrible time when people died.

But then again: every time is a terrible time.

Look at our own time: war, strife, death. Now think of making a “comic strip” out of it.

But could you make a bande dessinée of it?

Bien sur.


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About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to futureworld@cox.net.

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