the bayeux tapestry's missing link

Visitors to the Bayeux Tapestry Museum in Normandy during the summer of 2014 found that the story of this amazing tapestry had been completed – nearly a thousand years after it was created

widget finn explains

Scholars agree that the final scenes of the 11th-century Bayeux Tapestry, showing the coronation of William the Conqueror, were missing. Now the ‘Finale’ Bayeux Tapestry, created by the inhabitants of the tiny Channel Island of Alderney and completed in 2013, was for a time displayed in the museum alongside its historic original.

The Bayeux Tapestry, telling the story of the Norman conquest of England in 1066 by William of Normandy was commissioned to glorify the Conqueror and embroidered in England in the 1070s. Despite its name the work is an embroidery worked on linen cloth, and is 70 metres long. It disappeared for hundreds of years, then was re-discovered hanging in Bayeux Cathedral in the 18th century.

The Channel Island Animals: Jersey Toad, Guernsey Donkey, Alderney Puffin and Lion of England (embracing the Channel Islands) All images © Alderney Bayeux Tapestry

American Kate Russell, a talented embroiderer living on Alderney, admits to “having been obsessed with the Bayeux Tapestry for many years. I’d always loved early English history” she explains. “When on holiday near Bayeux we visited the Tapestry, which I’d never heard of before, and it was love at first sight!”

In 2012, she had the idea of a community project for the island which would ‘complete’ the Bayeux Tapestry. Kate was inspired by the book ‘The Bayeux Tapestry Embroiderers’ Story’ by Jan Messent who had carefully researched the style, materials and artistic conventions of the original. She received a grant from the States of Alderney to purchase materials for the embroidery, and at the beginning of 2012 an eight-foot section of framed linen was installed in the local library.

A local artist, Pauline Black, designed the Finale Tapestry using the authentic style, local historian Robin Wicker wrote a Latin commentary in the language of the time, and islanders and visitors were invited to take part. Age and ability was no barrier – over 400 people from all over the world aged from five to ninety-five took part in the project, including the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, who added their stitches during a visit to the island in 2012.

The final scenes in the original Tapestry show the death of the Anglo-Saxon King Harold and his troops fleeing after their defeat at Hastings, but Alderney’s Finale Tapestry has four panels showing events afterwards culminating in William’s coronation on Christmas Day 1066 at the Tower of London. It makes reference to the Channel Islands with representations of the Alderney Puffin, the Donkey for Guernsey, the Toad for Jersey and the Lion of England (embracing the Channel Islands).

The Alderney Bayeux Tapestry Finale has won the seal of approval from the curator of the Bayeux Tapestry Museum Sylvette Lemagnen, who was so impressed when she visited Alderney for its unveiling that she invited it to hang alongside the original tapestry in Bayeux.

“The scenes in Alderney’s tapestry are absolutely plausible” says Mme Lemagnen “and it is a creation of beautiful workmanship. The links between Alderney and Bayeux will be strengthened by this unique cultural exchange.”

For Kate Russell the exhibition in the museum is the realisation of a dream. “To see the tapestry created by the people of our little island of Alderney hanging in the place of honour alongside the Bayeux Tapestry is a unique honour.”

The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall lend a hand

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Widget Finn is a freelance business journalist and garden writer. She is a regular contributor on management to The Times, The Telegraph and the Independent and writes on gardens and lifestyle topics for leading magazines.