Cathedral of Our Lady of Bayeux, another Notre-Dame in France
With an embroidered treasure from the Middle Ages
05 January 2023 | TMA Staff
The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux in Normandy
The Bayeux Cathedral or in French known as the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux, a Roman Catholic Church in the town of Bayeux in Normandy, is known for the celebrated Bayeux Tapestry, which was once stored in a chest in the cathedral.
The large diocesan church is a national monument and the seat of the Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, measuring 102 meters long and 77 meters high. The cathedral was constructed in the Norman-Romanesque architectural tradition with towers in the west. After serious damage to the cathedral in the 12th century, the cathedral was rebuilt in the Gothic style with transepts and a crossing tower in the east, which was started in the 15th century and completed in the 19th century. The crypt, nave, and western towers survived from its original construction which was consecrated on 14 July 1077, in the presence of William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy and King of England, and his wife Matilda. Curators of the museum assert that today "It is part of a wonderfully well-preserved Episcopal complex."
The fame of the city is the Bayeux Tapestry along with the cathedral; the treasure once housed in the cathedral is an embroidered cloth that depicts the epic adventure of William the Conqueror in 1066. The Tapestry was rediscovered in the cathedral in the 18th century and now located down the street in its own museum, displaying the tapestry all year long.
The Death of Edward the Confessor. Bayeux Tapestry, © Ministère de la Culture / Médiathèque du Patrimoine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY; Unique Identifier ART 161064; Accessed January 5, 2023. https://www.artres.com/CS.aspx3=DamView&VBID=2UN365N7V2E16&PN=2&WS=SearchResults&FR_=1&W=1536&H=707
The Bayeux Tapestry
The tapestry magically takes viewers to a 1000 years ago, telling the story of William's conquest of England in needle work with wool sewn onto linen. The fabric contains 58 scenes in a 7O meters long fabric. It highlights the death of one king and the succession of another king. However, the artwork also depicts daily life and demonstrates how people of various background lived as it highlights plowing, sowing, farming life, and hunting as a man kills a bird in the freezes above and below the main scenes. The historical account of the conquest begins with the death of Edward the Confessor, King of the House of Wessex, who dies and is buried in Westminster Abbey; the frame depicts the hand of God blessing the abbey on the day of the burial and in another frame, Harold the Anglo-Saxon crowned in a coronation ceremony with his orb and scepter.
Bayeux Tapestry, 11th CE. Section 32B: Death of King Edward, men carrying his catafalque to St. Peter's of Westminster. Photo: Jean Gourbeix / Simon Guillot. © Ministère de la Culture / Médiathèque du Patrimoine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY; Unique Identifier ART473211; Accessed January 5, 2023.
Spies see the events unfold and report back to William in Normandy. William begins to mobilize an army, and the scenes depict all the steps of building ships for the attack. Other frames continue the story as the artist shows the items needed onboard for the attack, such as the weapons needed for battle and the chainmail for the soldiers, which are heavy and require two men to carry the items. The last items to be placed on board are the knight's valuable companions, their horses.
Bayeux Tapestry, 11th CE. Section 42B: Loading of the boats. Photo: Jean Gourbeix / Simon Guillot. © Ministère de la Culture / Médiathèque du Patrimoine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY; Unique Identifier ART462845; https://www.artres.com/CS.aspx?VP3=DamView&VBID=2UN365N7V2E16&PN=2&WS=SearchResults&FR_=1&W=1536&H=707, January 5, 2023.
The boats are seen sailing and landing at Pevensey where the soldiers are fed. A feast is depicted with William and the army, demonstrating the preparation of the meal, the food, and tools for cooking as the tools for building are demonstrated while the troops where in Normandy. A castle was then build using wood for their king, while other soldiers began burning the Anglo-Saxon houses. The battle commences with the artist demonstrating the various stages of battle and release of various soldiers skilled in their weapons. The consequences of war are also depicted as mutilated bodies are sewn into the fabric.
Bayeux Tapestry, 11th CE: Section 76B: William, believed to be injured reappears and raises his helmet, he retakes the command. Eustace II of Boulogne is shown to the right of the image. Photo: Jean Gourbeix / Simon Guillot. © Ministère de la Culture / Médiathèque du Patrimoine, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY; Unique Identifier ART462844; https://www.artres.com/CS.aspx?VP3=DamView&VBID=2UN365N7V2E16&PN=2&WS=SearchResults&FR_=1&W=1536&H=707 . January 5, 2023.
During the battle, troops believe their king is dead so the artist depicts William showing himself to his troops as evidence that he still survives and then the battle continues. The battle ends with a famous depiction of an arrow in the eye of Harold and then the king slaughtered. The detail of the artwork has many scholars comment on how the artists bring the events alive.
See medievalists.net, "The Arrow in King Harold’s Eye: The Legend That Just Won’t Die"
Resources for Teachers
A Walking Tour of the Cathedral, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MG3X_HIZqS0
How to cite this blog:
TMA Staff. "Cathedral of Our Lady of Bayeux, another Notre-Dame in France: With an embroidered treasure from the Middle Ages." Teaching the Middle Ages, January 5, 2023, https://www.teachingthemiddleages.com/post/cathedral-of-our-lady-of-bayeux-another-notre-dame-in-france,