Tag Archives: Bayeux

The Bayeux Tapestry

Another missing thread of our pilgrimage – in fact several million threads. This woven tapestry, a miracle of survival from the mid-11th century, once girded the magnificent nave of Bayeux Cathedral (consecrated in 1077) and tells the story of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 (a date known to every English schoolchild). Since it was commissioned by the half brother of Duke William of Normandy – the Conquerer himself – who was then Bishop of Bayeux, it is hardly surprising that the perspective favors the Normans. Also somewhat galling is the fact that the Cathedral was largely paid for by English money exacted by the said Bishop from his new fiefdom of Kent, and that this 230 ft work of art was sewn by English women (presumably nuns). If you look closely at the tapestry they did manage to get a few digs in at the Normans and the English King Harold himself, although killed in the battle, is shown in a surprisingly favorable light (for example rescuing Norman Knights who were about to drown in the quicksands around Mont Saint Michel). This naturally was before he and Duke William fell out over who should be King of England but says something about Harold’s character.
Duke William lands Continue reading The Bayeux Tapestry

Labyrinths . . . of many shapes and sizes

Today in Bayeux we visited one of the least known labyrinths in France, the faded brick labyrinth in the old Chapter House in Bayeux Cathedral. Last week we visited one of the most unusual – the stunning black and white octagonal labyrinth in Amiens Cathedral. And in a few days we will be visiting the “Grandmother” of them all, the sublime 11 circuit labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral.  We are holding our collective breath that the labyrinth in Chartres will finally have re-opened after several years during which the surrounding nave has been under restoration – if it is, that would indeed be a miracle! In the meantime a few words about these other marvels of medieval ingenuity.

The Amiens labyrinth is of course well known for its distinctive design and apparently miraculous state of preservation.  It is however a 19th century copy of the original which makes in none the less impressive, as is the entire cathedral – another miracle of preservation given the destruction wrought on Amiens particularly by the wars of the last century.  There is a particular harmony about Amiens Cathedral, a unity of design which is sometimes lacking in other cathedrals in France (there are 84 of them still – a greater number than in the whole world combined, or so we were told – I haven’t counted!). This is explained by the fact that Amiens Cathedral, like Chartres and Rheims, was built over a relatively short period of time, little more than 50 years, which is quite amazing when you consider the magnitude of these projects and the basic nature of 12th century technology (actually not so basic when one considers the mathematics, engineering, stone masonry and sheer brilliance of the design and execution involved).img_0289.jpg Another great marvel of Amiens Continue reading Labyrinths . . . of many shapes and sizes

Pre-Pilgrimage Prep

Those of you following the international news will know that this is a rough month to be in France, whether as a pilgrim or a tourist.  (What is the difference? According to Phil Cousineau in his terrific book The Art of Pilgrimage, it has something to do with the difference between passing through a place and allowing a place to pass through you).

Not only has the weather been wretched, with the Seine river overflowing its banks from Paris to Rouen and beyond due to the heaviest June rainfall since the 1870s, but also because of the French Unions’ decision to stage one of their (in)famous month-long strikes – so far only go-slows – thus holding the rest of Europe’s transportation systems hostage. It’s tempting to complain!  But, as usual, France manages to redeem itself Continue reading Pre-Pilgrimage Prep