Bayeux is a small town that lies on the Aure River in Normandy, in the "county" of Calvados, not far from the English Channel. It is located 16 miles west-northwest of Caen and roughly 166 miles northwest of Paris. Bayeux is home to the famous tapestry which bears its name.
The Bayeux Tapestry circa approx. 1092
The town was first known as Baiocasses to the Gauls and Augustodurum to the Romans. The Romans later recast the town as a city named Civitas Baiocassium. Common misspellings of Bayeux are Bayuex, Bayueax, and Bayou.
In the 4th century the town of Bayeux became headquarters for an early Roman Catholic bishop. Rollo, the Viking, captured the town in 880. Subsequently, it became a Norman stronghold. In 1106, Henry I of England pillaged the town. During the Hundred Years’ War, from 1337 to 1453, and during the Wars of Religion, from 1562 to 1598, the town was besieged and taken numerous times by various forces.
The German army occupied Bayeux in 1940. The Allies took the town on D-Day plus one, June 7, 1944. It was the first town liberated, and it was the first to great General de Gaulle on his return to France on June 14, 1944.
Although Bayeux is only a short distance from the D-Day invasion beaches of Omaha and Gold, it was spared bombardment during the historic invasion. Today, it is a sleepy, small town with cobblestone streets lined with small shops and Norman style timbered houses dating from the 17th century. Bayeux’s 13th through 19th century Gothic cathedral of Notre-Dame de Bayeux is in the town’s center. It has 11th century Romanesque towers, a groin-vaulted crypt, which is decorated with 15th century frescos. The City Hall, Hotel-de-Ville, was once the regions catholic Bishop’s Palace. A museum and the law courts are housed here.
The Musee de la Reine Mathilde displays the famous Bayeux Tapestry. This large embroidery tells the story of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. The medieval Tapestry [Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde] is probably the world’s most famous embroidery. It is remarkable both as a source of 11th century history and as a work of art. It is an invaluable historical representation of the arms, costumes, manners and ships used by the Normans (led by William The Conqueror) prior to the invasion of England.
The Tapestry stretches 231 feet long and is 19.5 inches wide. It was made of a seamless strip of linen, embroidered with eight colors of woolen thread. It is a needlework panorama of 72 individual scenes, and 1512 figures, with identifying Latin inscriptions, of the Norman Conquest. It tells of Harold’s failure to honor the oath, he gave at Bayeux recognizing his cousin William’s right to succeed Edward the Confessor, and the consequences that followed. The borders are decorated with animals and scenes taken from fables. It was probably made in England soon after the conquest. But, it wasn’t displayed in public until about 1476, when it decorated the nave of the Bayeux Cathedral.
Some believe that the tapestry was the work of William the Conqueror’s wife Matilda of Flanders. However, her involvement with the Tapestry is currently in doubt. Others believe that it was commissioned by Odo, the bishop of Bayeux and a half brother of William the Conqueror. Odo is depicted in some of the later scenes. The work is dated no later than 1092.
Across from the cemetery is the Musee Memorial de la Bataille de Normandie. The museum houses the story of the Battle of Normandy that took place between June 6 and August 22, 1944.
Bayeux products include dairy foods, lace, plastics and exquisite pottery.