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CULTURE

What you need to know about the Bayeux Tapestry (and how will it get to Britain?)

The French presidency is in talks to loan historical masterpiece, the Bayeux Tapestry to Britain. Here's what you need to know about the artifact and what we know so far about its possible trip to the UK.

What you need to know about the Bayeux Tapestry (and how will it get to Britain?)
Photo: AFP

It's not a tapestry

To start with the 70-metre long Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings as well as the event itself in 1066, isn't in fact a tapestry at all. Instead it is a work of embroidery made from wool stitched on to linen. 

The embroidery is split into 32 scenes depicting the Norman invasion of Britain led by William the Conqueror. 

Where does it come from?

The history of the Bayeux Tapestry which dates back to the 11-century has long been debated. 
 
And despite being one of France's pride and joys, a book published in 2006 suggested that it was probably created in England, leading The Sun newspaper to write: “Give us back our Tapestry — the Bayeux masterpiece is British”. Some believe it was made by English nuns, citing the distinctive Anglo-Saxon art of the 230ft-long work as proof.
 
“There is a reasonable case that it could have been made in Canterbury” in southern England, British historian David Musgrove, who authored a book on the subject, told the BBC.
 
“There's a lot of stylistic elements in the tapestry which would suggest it.”
 
If that's true, the loan from France would be something of a homecoming for the artifact. 
 
Nothing is known for certain about the tapestry's origins. The first written record of the Bayeux Tapestry is in 1476 when it was recorded in the cathedral treasury at Bayeux as “a very long and narrow hanging on which are embroidered figures and inscriptions comprising a representation of the conquest of England”.
 
Other theories are that it was made in Bayeux itself or perhaps in an abbey in the Loire region of central France.
 
Why was it made?
 
Despite the fact that French legend says the tapestry was commissioned by Queen Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror, it was probably commissioned by Odo of Bayeux, the half-brother of the king. 
 
Photo: Myrabella/Wikicommons
 
King Harold and the famous arrow 
 
The embroidery's arguably most well-known scene (see above), where we see King Harold being killed by an arrow in the eye, is believed to be a myth. 
 
Indeed it is thought that this version of his death originated from the Bayeux Tapestry itself.
 
Early accounts of the Battle of Hastings in fact suggest that he died from a lance through his chest before being hacked to death.
 
It's possible that the arrow from the sky — which would suggest a judgement from God on Harold — could have been French propaganda.
 
READ ALSO: 
France set to loan Bayeux Tapestry to Britain - under certain conditions
Photo: John McLinden/Flickr
 
Interest from abroad
 
This isn't the first time another nation has been interested in getting its hands on the famous embroidery. Leading Nazi Heinrich Himmler once tried to take it for Nazi Germany but thanks to signals intercepted by the British, French Resistance fighters got to it just before German troops arrived.
 
Britain also failed to borrow the tapestry to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
 
Journey to the UK
 
If the loan goes ahead the transportation of the embroidery would mean a huge operation and it would mark the first time the tapestry has left France in 950 years. 
 
But at the moment no one knows if it is even capable of making the journey. 
 
The French presidency confirmed on Wednesday that it was in talks to loan the Bayeux Tapestry to Britain, but that the embroidery would not be transferred before 2020.
 
An official in Macron's office said “it will not be before 2020 because it's an extremely fragile cultural treasure which will be subject to major restoration work before being transported anywhere.”
 

 
And a spokesperson for the Ville de Bayeux told The Local that it could be even longer before tapestry makes it to British shores. 
 
“We are in the process of planning a new museum which will house the embroidery. That means it's unlikely the loan will happen before 2023 when it is hoped we will be ready to close for the new development in France,” she said. 
 
The spokesperson suggested that Wednesday's announcement was a little premature (see above), saying that there was a lot to be decided before the loan could go ahead. 
 
“At the moment we need to remain calm over the situation because no one knows if it's possible to send the embroidery to the UK. We must first conduct analyses to see if it's capable of making the trip and there will be a lot of conditions before it goes ahead.
 
“That said, we are very open to working with heritage organisations in the UK and are already very linked with the British Museum,” she added. 
 
The tapestry is vulnerable to many hazards including extremes of temperature, humidity, tearing, moths and even strong light, wrote The Times, adding that someone would have to accompany the tapestry on its trip to the UK and keep it in sight for the entire journey except for its time in the cargo hold.
 
It is also unclear where the tapestry would be displayed even if its odyssey to the UK is approved. 
 
One thing is for sure: there's a lot more planning to do if the Bayeux Tapestry it to make it all the way to Britain intact. 

HISTORY

‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.

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