Bayeux Tapestry’s UK tour delayed for repairs not politics

French President Macron said in 2018 that the tapestry could be displayed in the UK but this now looks in doubt due to the need for urgent repairs

24 March 2021
By Jane Hanks

France cannot lend the Bayeux Tapestry to the UK to put it on show before it is restored because it is too fragile, the deputy mayor of Bayeux, Loïc Jamin, has told The Connexion.

In 2018, President Emmanuel Macron had suggested to then-UK Prime Minister Theresa May that the Bayeux museum could lend the 68.4 metre-long medieval tapestry, which famously tells the story of the Norman Conquest in 1066, for exhibition in the UK. 

He said it could be a way to “commemorate our shared cultural history”, and improve relations following Brexit.

There had been two previous requests from the UK to borrow the tapestry; once for the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1952, and then in 1966, for the 900th anniversary of the 1066 Battle of Hastings. Both were refused.

Now that this has again been pronounced impossible for the time being, there have been reports in the press on both sides of the Channel that this has led to diplomatic tensions between the UK and France.

However Mr Jamin said: “the press can say what they like but there are no tensions at all between the two countries on this. 

“We are very aware of the importance of the common history between Bayeux and the UK with two important events, the Norman Conquest and the liberation of the town by British soldiers during World War Two,” he said. 

In January 2020, a team of eight textile restoration specialists found “24,204 stains, 16,445 wrinkles, 9,646 gaps in the cloth or the embroidery as well as 30 unstable tears in the tapestry. 

Mr Jamin said it will take 18 months “to stabilise the deterioration” in the tapestry.

At present there are studies underway to decide how and under what conditions the tapestry can be restored. Its restoration is the only situation to justify any move of the tapestry away from Bayeux, and the only situation in which a move across the Channel might be possible, the mairie has underlined.

The tapestry belongs to the state and is on loan to Bayeux until 2066, the one thousandth anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. It is the state that will organise and pay the €2million for its restoration. 

The Bayeux Mairie says press reports that other institutions might be asked to contribute to the cost are incorrect and that there is no question of negotiating any financing of the restoration to obtain the right to borrow the tapestry.

Works are planned to start on a new museum to house the tapestry in autumn 2024, with plans for it to open in spring 2026.

Construction of the new museum is necessary because the current one no longer conforms to regulations. It will cost an estimated €33 million and will be paid for by the mairie. In a normal year, the museum attracts more than 700,000 visitors, of which 70% are foreigners. 

The UK sees the tapestry as a key part of its own history and many experts believe from studies of the style, material and thread that it was originally made by nuns in a Kent convent. 

Bayeux Tapestry definitely French, professor claims

Read more:

Stitches in time: The history of Bayeux and its tapestry

Weaving is coming: GoT tapestry heads to France

Tapestry for the ages of Franco-British relations

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