December 28, Bayeux Tapestry and Bayeux

I spent the day wandering around Bayeux, and saw the Bayeux tapestry, Catedral Notre-Dame de Bayeux, Musee Baron Gerard (local art and history museum) and lots of beautiful old homes and streets. 

Here are today’s photos: http://goo.gl/photos/58fXdG7ezpTSoU1n9

There are several water mills around the town; I found two of them. They powered mills for grinding flour and oil seeds, There were various craft industries located along the river, such as dyers and tanners. Laundries too were situated along the river. 

 

One of the water mills in Bayeux

One of the water mills in Bayeux

 
Bayeux is pretty tourist oriented. Lots of little boutique stores (luckily not many crappy tourist souvenir stores, or maybe I have just missed them so far?), with clothing being the main item for sale. I saw a couple of hat stores, but none of the fascinators that I saw in Ireland. Nothing wild or crazy :-). I found three embroidery stores, none of which were open. One is for sure closed for the holidays; one is open by appointment in the winter; and the last one simply wasn’t open-no sign saying when or if it would be opened. The one closed for the holidays (Conservatoire de la Dentelle de Bayeux) is the one I want to see of course; I saw a display at the Bayeux tapestry museum and there was some embroidery thread that I wanted to look at. 

 

Bayeux patisserie

A small patisserie, where I had an amazing pastry

 
The Bayeux tapestry is the whole reason for the trip, at least for Mary. I’m just along for the ride :-). But I dutifully trudged off to see the tapestry museum, and I am so glad I did. What an amazing piece of history! I would love to meet one of the embroiderers, but I rather suspect I am not alone in that wish. The origins of the tapestry are mysterious and unclear; no one is even sure exactly where it was made. I was surprised to learn that it is not a true tapestry; it’s actually free hand embroidery. There are 4 stitches used in the tapestry, Bayeux stitch (satin stitch/couching combination), stem stitch and outline stitch, chain stitch, and split stitch. I knew wool thread was used for the stitching, which made me think it was needlepoint, but I learned that tapestries are woven not stitched, so I was wrong altogether. So it’s a good thing I came to Bayeux, isn’t it!

At the museum, each visitor gets a hand held speaker that tells you about the tapestry as you walk along. The tapestry is 70 meters long and it takes 20 or so minutes to see the entire thing. It is such a brief, biased history, but you get the high points even if the monologue doesn’t go into detail. It must have taken hundreds of hours of stitching; I wonder how many actually worked on the embroidery? Much of the story is guesswork; the scenes and symbolism weren’t recorded in a written format. Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, but not if you don’t know what an icon symbolises or exactly who is being portrayed. An intriguing blend of fact and fiction; what a mystery story!

I walked through the Catedral Notre-Dame de Bayeux, a beautiful cathedral. Serene and quiet, a wonderful respite from the streets of Bayeux. Not that Bayeux is too crazy! But almost no one was there, and I loved the peaceful reverence.

 

Catedral Notre-Dame de Bayeux

The beautiful cathedral in Bayeux

 
I also visited the local art and history museum, Musee Baron Gerard. This was a very brief history of the Bayeux area. The signage was in French and English, so I read the ones I was interested in. You start in the ancient times and progress, as you walk through the museum, to quite recent history. I particularly enjoyed the fiber arts of course; a dress, several examples of Bayeux and Chantilly lace (bobbin lace), and an amusing picture of two fishwives arguing. I didn’t use a flash to take the picture, so my image is very blurry. The room with the lace is set up as though it is the lacemaker’s studio; it was fascinating to see the threads and bobbins and other pieces of the craft.

  

Bayeux is a fascinating little town; narrow one-way streets, stone buildings. I got occasional little peeks into the courtyards where people park their cars (is that where the horses used to be kept?). Lots and lots of hotels and bed and breakfasts; I’m so glad I’m not driving around try to find my hotel; some of them have very tiny signs. Which is nice for me as a walker, but not so great if you’re driving. So many restaurants too; so far all the food in France has been delicious! I am going to have to find a french cookbook, as well as learn to make the french bread. Yum!!

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