1,000 years of war: Caen and Bayeux, Normandy region, France

Seward Johnson’s sculpture “Unconditional Surrender” was inspired by the famous photograph taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt in Times Square, NY, on 14 August 1945, signaling the end of WW II; Caen Memorial, Normandy, France

Seward Johnson’s sculpture “Unconditional Surrender” was inspired by the famous photograph taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt in Times Square, NY, on 14 August 1945, signaling the end of WW II; Caen Memorial, Normandy, France

 

With some friends we organized a day of Norman history.  From Honfleur on the Normandy coast, we drove southwest to the city of Caen that was heavily destroyed by Allied bombing after D-Day.  We spent the morning at the Caen Memorial, an excellent museum about the events leading up to World War II, its outbreak and unfolding, with some focus on the D-Day beach landings at the Normandy beaches, and the aftermath and final year of fighting in Europe.  The Pacific Theater was referenced a few times, particularly in sections of the museum relating to the violence of war and atrocities committed by combatants (the Pacific Theater focus was on Japan’s fighting in China and the Pacific Islands).

This is an experience we recommend to anyone planning a visit to the Normandy beaches and the cemeteries.  A few hours spent on the background history makes a visit to the beaches much more meaningful.

 

Bayeux Cathedral, Bayeux, Normandy region, France

Bayeux Cathedral, Bayeux, Normandy region, France

 

We then drove to Bayeux where we had a nice bistro lunch and then walked around the town, stopping at the Bayeux Cathedral before heading to the former monastery that now houses the incredible Bayeux Tapestry.

 

The nave and altar of Bayeux Cathedral, Bayeux, Normandy region, France

The nave and altar of Bayeux Cathedral, Bayeux, Normandy region, France

 

Photograph of a photographic enlargement of a segment of the Bayeux Tapestry depicting Norman horses before the Battle of Hastings, 1066, Bayeux, Normandy region, France

Photograph of a photographic enlargement of a segment of the Bayeux Tapestry depicting Norman horses before the Battle of Hastings, 1066, Bayeux, Normandy region, France

 

“The Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered cloth nearly 70 metres (230 ft) long and 50 centimetres (20 in) tall, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy, and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later [the usurper] King of England, and culminating in the Battle of Hastings [in 1066, won by William and the Normans].

“According to Sylvette Lemagnen, conservator of the tapestry:

‘The Bayeux tapestry is one of the supreme achievements of the Norman Romanesque …. Its survival almost intact over nine centuries is little short of miraculous … Its exceptional length, the harmony and freshness of its colors, its exquisite workmanship, and the genius of its guiding spirit combine to make it endlessly fascinating.” — Wikipedia

 

Photograph of a photographic enlargement of a segment of the Bayeux Tapestry depicting sailors on boats searching for their landing spot, Bayeux, Normandy region, France

Photograph of a photographic enlargement of a segment of the Bayeux Tapestry depicting sailors on boats searching for their landing spot, Bayeux, Normandy region, France

 

A scene in a reproduction of the Bayeux Tapestry depicting “Harold and William return to Normandy, where William's daughter Aelfgifu is betrothed to Harold”, Bayeux, Normandy region, France

A scene in a reproduction of the Bayeux Tapestry depicting “Harold and William return to Normandy, where William’s daughter Aelfgifu is betrothed to Harold”, Bayeux, Normandy region, France

 

“The tapestry consists of some fifty scenes with Latin tituli, embroidered on linen with coloured woollen yarns.  It is likely that it was commissioned by Bishop Odo, William’s half-brother, and made in England—not Bayeux—in the 1070s. In 1729 the hanging was rediscovered by scholars at a time when it was being displayed annually in Bayeux Cathedral.  The tapestry is now exhibited at the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in Bayeux, Normandy, France.” – Wikipedia

Although it is called the Bayeux Tapestry, this commemorative work is not a true tapestry as the images are not woven into the cloth; instead, the imagery and inscriptions are embroidered using wool yarn sewed onto linen cloth.

 

A scene in a reproduction of the Bayeux Tapestry depicting events on 28 September 1066 -- “Here the horses leave the ships” and “And here the soldiers hurried to Hastings to requisition food”, Bayeux, Normandy region, France

A scene in a reproduction of the Bayeux Tapestry depicting events on 28 September 1066 — “Here the horses leave the ships” and “And here the soldiers hurried to Hastings to requisition food”, Bayeux, Normandy region, France

 

At the Bayeux Cathedral we found an interesting explanatory text that noted how William, Duke of Normandy and the victor at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 in England, used the Church’s great authority to reinforce his power. “During the Norman conquest by William, his half-brother Odo, also Arlette’s son, was Bishop of Bayeux. Historians believe that the Bayeux Tapestry was commissioned by Odo to adorn his new cathedral, which was consecrated in 1077. The Tapestry was displayed there once yearly and illustrated Harold’s ill fate to the cathedral’s faithful community. During its consecration, all of the Dukedom of Normandy and the Kingdom of England’s most eminent dignitaries were present alongside Lanfranc, the Men’s Abbey’s very first abbot, who was to become the Archbishop of Canterbuty.”

 

Flying buttresses of the Bayeux Cathedral, Bayeux, Normandy region, France

Flying buttresses of the Bayeux Cathedral, Bayeux, Normandy region, France

 

Ending the day with visit to the Bayeux Cathedral gave us a chance to reflect on the history of war — spanning a milenium — that we had seen recounted in contemporary “technologies” and story telling mediums:  the 70 meter long tapestry in bright colors without writing (at a time when there were no published books and few laymen could read) in contrast with 20th and 21st centuries’ video, photography, museum tableaux artifacts and an actual bunker used by the Germans to defend Caen, retelling the story of the second “Great War”.  A lot to absorb and reflect on…

 

Closeup of the flying buttresses of the Bayeux Cathedral, Bayeux, Normandy region, France

Closeup of the flying buttresses of the Bayeux Cathedral, Bayeux, Normandy region, France

 

3 thoughts on “1,000 years of war: Caen and Bayeux, Normandy region, France

    • Yes, its existence is amazing, given all the places its been taken for display and the Germans did not get it in World War II. Also, the colors are quite close to the original colors, although some of the indigo wool has faded a little. Quite amazing!

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