French officials cast doubt on Bayeux Tapestry loan to Britain

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the 1066 Battle of Hastings when William the Conqueror from France defeated English forces.
The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the 1066 Battle of Hastings when William the Conqueror from France defeated English forces. Ville de Bayeux/AFP/File

France’s Bayeux Tapestry is unlikely to go to the UK due to the fragile condition of the nearly thousand-year-old artefact, museum and town officials have said as they prepare to carry out the first restoration of the tapestry in more than 150 years.


The 70-metre-long tapestry is displayed in a museum in the city of Bayeux in France’s Normandy region, where visitors can stroll through a darkened room and look through a glass enclosure at the depiction of the 1066 Norman Conquest of England.

In the midst of Brexit talks in 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron and then-British Prime Minister Theresa May made an agreement for the tapestry to be loaned to Britain in a goodwill gesture for Franco-British relations after the UK’s departure from the European Union.

But after a January 2020 review that identifed nearly 24,200 stains and 10,000 holes, experts said the tapestry looks more intact than it actually is, with fragility in the structure of the canvas and support of the embroidery at weak points.

Officials are now preparing the tapestry’s first restoration since 1870, not to clean the stains or repair all the holes, but to secure its current state. But there is a doubt that even a restored tapestry will be able to cross the Channel.

“The tapestry is an old lady who is nearly 1,000 years old, a very, very fine linn canvas embroidered with wool which now shows multiple signs of damage,” Antoine Verney, chief curator of the museum, told the French AFP news agency.

“It cannot travel until it is restored, but one question remains: can it travel when it is restored,” Verney asked.

The city of Bayeux, the custodian of the tapestry which belongs to the French state, was more conclusive, saying it would not be allowed to leave.

“The only justification for possibly moving it is to restore it,” Loic Jamin, deputy mayor of Bayeux for tourism, told AFP.

Museum slated for rebuilding

The tapestry is believed to have been made in Canterbury a few years after the Norman Conquest, when William the Conqueror led an invasion force across the English Channel.

The story it tells culminates with the defeat of Anglo-Saxon King Harold at the 1066 Battle of Hastings, which it depicts in an image, well known to generations of British schoolchildren, of Harold being shot through the eye with a Norman arrow.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, it attracted 400,000 visitors per year, 70 percent of whom were from abroad.

The French and UK leaders had hoped the loan would take place in 2022, which now appears unlikely. The restoration will probably not begin before 2024, when the museum itself is also scheduled for rebuilding.

Even moving the tapestry for the 2020 review involved the coordinated efforts of 50 people, Verney said.

Two previous plans to loan the tapestry never came to fruition: one for the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953 and the other for the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in 1966.

(With AFP)

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