I’m staying in Bayeux for two nights, using this lovely town as my home base to retrace some more footsteps in Normandy. Bayeux was the first city to be liberated by the Allied forces on June 7, 1944, and there are a number of painted murals and flags celebrating the 70th Anniversary of D-Day.
I am quickly discovering that traveling solo is an excellent way to learn a language, and my functional language skills are improving. I’ve been struck by the civilized nature of the French people, and I find their politeness incredibly refreshing. How easily I had fallen into diverting my eyes from my neighbor in the concrete jungle of NYC.
So today, I went to see the famous Bayeux Tapestry, which is nearly 1,000 years old. Although it was housed in the Bayeux Cathedral for 7 centuries, it has traveled around quite a bit in recent years.
Impressive Gargoyles on the Bayeux Cathedral
Although my grandfather did not have direct dealings with the tapestries, he recounts several anecdotes in his book. I’m skipping ahead chronologically to the chapter on Paris because that is where the Bayeux Tapestry was located at that time.
[Jacques] Jaujard, [General Director of the National Museums], vitiated all German attempts to effect an exchange of German objects from France for French objects in Germany… For months Jaujard delayed German efforts to acquire the Bayeux Tapestry – the 850-year-old embroidered pictoral of the conquest of England by William the Conqueror – one of Europe’s most prized art treasures. Finding it impossible to procrastinate further, he finally permitted them to copy it. The Germans subsequently insisted that the original be given up to them. A week before the arrival of the Allies a special emissary came from Berlin with instructions to bring the tapestry back with him. The resourceful Jaujard contacted the Underground to learn when the arrival of the Allied troops was expected. Hearing that it might be only a matter of days, he fought a final delaying action and succeeded in keeping the tapestry in its lead box in the sub-basement of the Louvre. (J. Rorimer, 50-51)
Here are a couple snapshots from my visit to the Bayeux Museum regarding the whereabouts of the Bayeux Tapestry during WWII.
In the early days following the Liberation, security was still an important factor. We thought then that it was safer to keep many of the cultural institutions closed. It seemed the wisest course in view of the disorganization of the directing authorities, the continuing need for caring for objects which had been stored out of the city, and the fact that Paris had not yet been declared a leave center. Somewhat later, however, it was decided that the vast artistic resources of Paris could be made available to the soldiers… the Louvre opened an exhibition displaying the Bayeux Tapestry for the first time in Paris since 1804, when Napoleon had shown it to his generals… Jacques Duont, the clever young Inspector of Historic Monuments, made his contribution to the scheme by bicycling the 165 miles to Bayeux to obtain the approval of the city officials for the loan of the tapestry. An embarrassing discovery was made just as the Minister of Education arrived to greet the American, British and French officials… The last line of the explanatory inscriptions on the tapestry reads, “The English Turned in Flight.” In the interest of inter-Allied solidarity it was hastily decided that the last scenes of the tapestry would have to be artificially concealed. A new edition of the descriptive pamphlet omitted “In fuga verterunt Angli” altogether. (J. Rorimer, 64-65)
Bayeux Tapestry – ET FUGA VERTERUNT ANGLI (The English Fled)
New Yorker Cover (July 15, 1944)
And that is the perfect segue to my next post… the Normandy Beaches!