The Tapestry of Bayeux
Uwe Topper
Berlin · 2000/2002

The room in the splendid museum of Bayeux (Normandie, France) where this famous tapestry is exhibited to an ever growing public is kept quite dark in order to protect the coulours from fading. Yet with some effort the eyes adapt to the darkness and make out certain technical features that give rise to suspicion about the date (between 1066 AD and 1082 AD) when this tapestry (which is supposed to show the battle of Hastings in 1066 and the conquest of England) was manufactured

Analizing the fabric attentively one has to come to the conclusion that there are two different periods the Bayeux tapestry has been worked on, a fact that can easily be established by looking at the technique of the embroidery itself by regarding how the needle was used, which coulours were prefered, how able the artisan was etc. There lapsed obviously a certain interval of time between the two phases of work, a point which so far is not accounted for by modern research on the tapestry but even denied as far as I read. Yet it is so obvious from an artists point of view that I suppose ideological reasons for silencing this point. Although I cannot give an estimate how many years might have gone between the two phases, it must be a considerable time (like a generation or more). Now let us look at the representations: The younger part, i.e. the text line, is somehow "normal" latin. It is meant to give us clues as to how we should interprete the pictures which are definitely older. By this forced interpretation we are lead into a trap. From the wordings I would suggest that it is written about 600 years ago, but this should be confirmed by learned specialists. There is even reason to assume that the text has been composed purposely to look archaic, which means that a certain falsifiying motive has to be considered.

The pictures - i.e. the first phase of the embroidery work - do tell a different story and should be interpreted just by themselves, without heeding the latin text accompaning it. Thus we might learn some news about the circumstances of the battle of "1066 AD", or whenever it really took place. The Norman conquest of England could be one cornerstone of its history, only with quite different background than believed today.

As striking example I just cast a glance at the entrance ticket of the museum where the tapestry is at display. It shows a detail of the tapestry: a bishop is celebrating the last supper, as true christian bishops are supposed to do at that time. But what do we see: a man feasting with his fellows, rather a banquet. Only the suggestive heading: ET.hIC.EPISCOPVS.CIBV.ET.POTV:BENEDICIT.
("and here the overseer is blessing bread and drink") makes us believe the scene to have christian connotation.

Nearly all pictures and scenes on this rug reveal heathen costumes and manners. The bottom and upper margins stress this point by exhibiting beasts like dragons and monsters, the heathen Irminsul (a pillar which was regarded as the center of the world, something like the axis of the globe), also boats with dragon or horse heads.

Even the church (supposed to be "Westminster") has no crosses on its roof or towers but a stilized dragon's head at the choir. On the coffin of the dead king we have two crosses, but they are universal signs of life, with equal endings (see image above).

There might be a chance to guess at the age of the tapestry by analizing the floating standards of the armies. Those of the ANGLI look strangely nordic and archaic with their tips; they should be traceable to a certain moment in English history, somewhere in the late 14th /early 15th century, as blockprints of that time from Southern Germany and Switzerland reveal.

Another approach might be comparing recently discovered wall paintings in french private houses dated to the 14th century. There is a stunning similarity in style between those common paintings and the figures on the rug of Bayeux.

The earliest date the seventy yards long tapestry mentioned in any medieval source is 1476, when it was venerated by many people and attracted crowds of pilgrims. This might be after its completion with the latin texts (although it is still unfinished in some parts). Should a marvel like this not have been described in detail much earlier if it had existed?

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