Travel: Bayeux – A Game Of Tapestries

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Natalie Morris is offered a dream trip to Bayeux in Normandy.

In the life of a fan, there can be a wide variety of experiences which make the act of disproportionately obsessing over something a little more special. In the case of Game of Thrones fans, this might include slightly obvious – but no less exciting – experiences, such as visiting all the recognizable shooting locations in Northern Ireland; but fan satisfaction might also come in the form of the utterly unexpected. In fact, it might be argued that the most exciting experience of all is to be surprised, even somewhat bewildered, when the object of fanaticism steps out of its specific – albeit sizable – place in popular culture, and somehow enters a wholly different kind of space.

For instance, witnessing a press conference in the Norman town of Bayeux, with political representatives and tourism officials from Bayeux and the island of Ireland, open with the Game of Thrones theme played by a four-piece band, might have this particularly heart-fluttering effect. If you haven’t heard of the Game of Thrones Tapestry, made in Northern Ireland and now on tour, you might be surprised, or simply confused. Let me explain – sort of – from the beginning.

In 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte wrote an edict in which he officially and very solemnly entrusted to the people of Bayeux the care of something they had already been deeply treasured for about seven centuries: a medieval tapestry running nearly 70 metres long, depicting the legendary Franco-English wars fought by Normandy’s still most legendary figure, William the Conqueror.

Present-day Bayeusiens continue to take pride in this edict as well as in the tapestry itself, which to a great extent represents their heritage. Probably commissioned in the second half of the 11th century by the Bishop Odo of Bayeux (William’s half-brother), it has miraculously remained almost intact throughout all of France’s historical twists and turns, all thanks to the care (or bon soin, in Napoleon’s words) which the various clergymen, scholars and citizens have devoted to it. Their protective spirit, which has saved the artwork from revolutionaries trying to rip it to shreds in order to protect weapons from the elements as well as German air raids during World War Two, remains quite manifest to this day.

From September to December 2019 the Hotel du Doyen, where the famous tapestry was once displayed, housed a new ambitious piece of embroidered storytelling. This one is 88 metres-long, was commissioned by Tourism Ireland, and it is almost as inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry as it is by the hit television series Game of Thrones. When the people in charge of the Bayeux’s cultural and historical heritage got word of the project, they responded with the greatest compliment imaginable – they asked if they could borrow it.