I have always wanted to see the D-Day beaches at Normandy, so we headed in that direction and somewhat randomly picked a town with a good hotel. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the place we were staying, Bayeaux, was also the present home of the Bayeaux Tapestry. If you’ve never heard of it, you are probably not the only one.
A few months before we left the US, I happened to see a TV program about it on the History Channel (I used to spend quite a lot of time watching that channel). I filed it away in my memory and hadn’t thought about it since, but here’s a brief review. The Bayeaux Tapestry is actually a 70m long piece of fabric that has been embroidered with pictures of the story of William the Conqueror invading England and becoming king. It’s very detailed and the craftsmanship is excellent. Since it was made just after the events happened, it’s a first-hand account and gives historians a huge amount of information about everything from the weapons, clothes, and boats to meal preparation. We just had to see it, and I found it fascinating.
Fast forward from 1066 to 1944 and there is another invasion in the opposite direction. From Bayeux we drove to Omaha Beach and visited the American cemetery there. The exhibit at the visitor center does a great job of setting up the events leading to D-Day, as well as present a moving display of individual soldiers’ stories at the end. In the background a voice reads out the names of the casualties and I found it very emotional. The cemetery itself is somewhat stark, but respectful. It’s hard to imagine the events of that day standing there in bright sunshine in near silence. We walked down to the beach and just stared up at the cliffs, not being able to imagine what it must have been like to face it under siege.
It’s a lot to take in and think about these two events. They are so far apart in time and so different on scale, but strangely similar in how they are remembered as historic events.