What is the Bayeux Tapestry?
The Bayeux Tapestry tells the story of events leading up to the invasion and conquest of England in 1066. It was commissioned for display in the Cathedral of Bayeux, perhaps by William the Conqueror, but more likely by his half brother, Odo, Bishop of Bayeux.
It is a wide banner of embroidered linen, 70 metres long and 50 centimetres wide, involving only 2 stitches, the Bayeux stitch or couching and the stem stitch. A limited range of eight colours produces a surprisingly vibrant effect.
Since the ending is so badly damaged, it is very likely that several of the scenes have been lost. Ray Dugan offers his interpretation of what these missing scenes might have contained, but has stitched them in muted shades of brown so that they are not confused with the original.
Thousands of visitors, including many school children flock to Bayeux every year to view this medieval masterpiece. In executing his reproduction, Dr. Dugan hopes to reach viewers who might otherwise be unable to enjoy this exceptional insight into one of the greatest events in European history.
The Story in Detail…and in the Author’s Own Words
It tells the story of the events leading up to the battle of Hastings (1066) between England’s King Harold and Normandy’s Duke William. The two had been friends and military allies until Edward the Confessor died and the English crown was offered to Harold, the son of a powerful English earl. William felt he had more claim to it since Edward had looked on him with favour ever since the English king had spent years exiled in France, England having been overun by the Danes.
After Harold was crowned, William sailed for England with his men armed with lances and arrows and set up fortifications at Hastings. Harold and his foot soldiers bearing broadaxes and shields, headed there after defeating the Danes in Yorkshire.
As the battle raged, it looked as if the Anglo-Saxons would repulse the invaders, but then the tide turned, and along the lower border of the tapestry we see bodies beheaded or armour ripped off them.
“It gets rather bloody here, and after a while, I got tired of stitching horse after horse in the charges”. remembers Dugan. Pointing to the illustration of the death of King Harold, he says: “Every English school child learns that Harold died on the battlefield with an arrow in his eye, but the only source for that story is the Bayeux Tapestry.”
Another challenge was getting the materials. French wool was needed by the boxful, not just a few skeins at a time. So friends in France were sent hunting for the right colours. And it was a friend who delayed things for a while when he spilt a glass of red wine on a panel he was admiring. “That’s when I learned it was washable.” laughs the artist.
About half-way along the 200 feet there is a double-edged rectangle marked with two crosses showing a date – April 9, 1993. That is the date of the Dugans’ tragedy. Their two sons drowned in the Castor River, south of Ottawa. The older son, Andrew, had come with his wife and two children to visit his younger brother Mark, who was to be married the following July. Andy was going to be best man and sing at his brother’s wedding so there were preparations to be made. Later that Good Friday the two brothers went out in Mark’s jeep even though it was a terrible night with heavy flooding from the ice that had just broken up. When the jeep became stuck, they started to walk home. It’s assumed that one of the boys lost his footing because they were wading in the freezing water in a field, not realizing that the river was just ahead of them. When one slipped into the river, the other probably jumped in to rescue his brother. One body was recovered on Easter Monday, the other two days later.
“You can never be prepared to face something like that and you never get over it. But the tapestry helped me through a very difficult period. I didn’t consciously think of it as therapy. It just happened. Stitching became almost an obsession and at that point I just had to finish. It is dedicated to the memory of my two sons.”
Since its completion it has been displayed at meetings of Bereaved Families of Ontario as well as in museums and galleries across Ontario and Quebec including Kitchener, Almonte, Montreal, Woodstock, London, The Haliburton School of the Arts, Bruce County, Wellington County, Lambton County, the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, the Canadian Textile Museum in Toronto, at Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and St. Bonaventure University in Olean, New York.