Bayeux is a beautiful town in Normandy which we visited during our recent road trip around the Battle of Normandy sites. It is famous for the Bayeux Tapestry which depicts the Norman conquest of England. Having escaped relatively unscathed from World War II, the town is full of medieval buildings. The River Aure flows through the centre of Bayeux and adds to its charm.
Although the Bayeux Tapestry was supposedly woven by William the Conqueror’s wife, Matilda and her ladies-in-waiting at the end of 11th century, in all likelihood the needlework was done by monks in England. William the Conqueror’s half-brother, Bishop Odo, commissioned it for the Gothic cathedral of Notre-Dame de Bayeux which dominates the centre of town.
The Bayeux Tapestry would originally have been displayed in the town’s cathedral but now is in a museum in the centre of town. Listed as a UNESCO world heritage item, the Bayeux tapestry is 70 meters long and 50 centimetres high with 58 separate scenes. Its depictions of the battle scenes are understandably favourable towards the Normans. It was almost destroyed during the French Revolution when it was used as a wagon cover!
I thought the tapestry was amazing. The amount of detail is astounding. It’s easy to tell that war in any century was a gruesome event. The colours, moreover, are still vibrant, especially for embroidery that is over 900 years old. You are given an audio guide which explains the scenes of the tapestry very well. You are rushed through the visit, however, because the commentary is fairly speedy and there is no pause button on the audio guide. Presumably, they need to keep people moving in periods of heavy visitor numbers.
Consecrated in 1077, the Bayeux cathedral was meant as a place of worship for religious people, such as the priests and monks. As such, the cathedral has very few stained glass windows. In the Middle Ages, stained glass was used as a teaching mechanism for the masses to understand the teachings of the Catholic Church. The religious, however, should presumably know their catechism and, therefore, stained glass was not needed.
This giant bell, named Therese-Benedict, was on display in the nave of the Bayeux Cathedral when I visited last month. Being installed on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy, this bell has special significance because it has been 156 years since a bell has been replaced. It will be run for the first time on the 14th of June during the height of the 70th anniversary celebrations.
The town of Bayeux is very pretty with cobblestone streets, half-timbered houses and mellowed stone buildings. Its buildings survived the carnage inflicted on other towns during World War II because it was the first big town to be liberated by the Allied Forces on the morning of the 7th June 1944. Bayeux served as the provisional capital of France in 1944.
The Bayeux war cemetery is the largest British Commonwealth cemetery from World War II in Europe.
Although there was little fighting in Bayeux itself, the cemetery is the resting place of many who died in the region. Located just outside of the town, the cemetery has had a major facelift with brand new tombstones and landscaped grounds. It is a fitting tribute to the brave men who sacrificed their lives for the greater good.
We really enjoyed our visit to Bayeux and wished we had more time to wander its cobblestone streets. You can easily combine a trip to Bayeux with visits to the D-Day landing beaches.