Subscribe to Scotiana's blog RSS feed in your preferred reader!

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter
    June 2021
    S M T W T F S


    Follow Me on Pinterest

    A ‘miniature Bayeux Tapestry’ in Orkney…


    Collection of painted panels in St Magnus Cathedral © 2012 Scotiana

    Collection of painted panels in St Magnus Cathedral © 2012 Scotiana


    Mairiuna, we’ve just enjoyed reading your post on the children’s painted panels in St Magnus Cathedral – a miniature Bayeux Tapestry!  What was it, we wondered, that attracted the Arran children to this subject?

    (Iain & Margaret – 17/11/2012)
    Many thanks to Iain and Margaret for this kind comment and quite interesting remarks about the Arran children paintings of St Magnus Cathedral. I enjoyed very much writing about these painted panels for which I felt a ‘coup de coeur’ while visiting the big austere cathedral in Kirkwall.
    Part of Bayeux Tapestry Source Wikipedia

    The Bayeux Tapestry (Detail) – Source Wikipedia

    The Bayeux Tapestry, aka ‘Queen Matilda’s Tapestry’, is an embroidery rather than a tapestry.  It was embroidered in the 11 th century on a linen canvas and its dimension is quite impressive:  229.6ft long and 1.6ft high (70 m x 0, 50 m) . In 2007, it has been added by UNESCO to the  ‘Memory of the World’.  It is well worth the listing, for it is a priceless source of information about medieval life.
    Bayeux Historic Centre Source Wikipedia

    Bayeux Historic Centre – Source: Wikipedia

    Though we never went to Bayeux and didn’t see its famous tapestry, it did ring a bell when Iain and Margaret mentioned it for we have been living several years in Normandy, in the department of Calvados, not very far from Bayeux. How is it that we never went to this very picturesque town I wonder… I often come to think  that we  know Scotland better than France ;-).
    I like adding new pieces to the great historical puzzle… here’s another one.
    Celebrating the conquest of England by William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, the Bayeux Tapestry was embroidered after the Battle of Hastings which took place on October 14th, 1066. One consequence of the Norman conquest was that  many Anglo-Saxons, including groups of rich nobles, fled the country to settle down in Scotland.
    In the 1050s and early 1060s William became a contender for the throne of England, then held by his childless relative Edward the Confessor. There were other potential claimants, including the powerful English earl Harold Godwinson, who was named the next king by Edward on the latter’s deathbed in January 1066. William argued that Edward had previously promised the throne to him, and that Harold had sworn to support William’s claim. William built a large fleet and invaded England in September 1066, decisively defeating and killing Harold at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066. After further military efforts William was crowned king on Christmas Day 1066, in London. He made arrangements for the governance of England in early 1067 before returning to Normandy. Several unsuccessful rebellions followed, but by 1075 William’s hold on England was mostly secure, allowing him to spend the majority of the rest of his reign on the Continent. (Wikipedia)
    William the Conqueror castle in Falaise Normandy France Wikipedia

    William the Conqueror Castle in Falaise, Normandy, France – Wikipedia


    If we didn’t see Bayeux we could not have missed the native place of William the Conqueror in Falaise for our daughter was born there, a few hundred yards from the old castle which was built on the site of William’s fortress.

    Just have a look at the colourful and  lively motifs of the Bayeux Tapestry.

    Maybe Mrs Farquharson, the Arran children’s art teacher, had led them to see the  Bayeux Tapestry before they created the painted panels of St Magnus cathedral.

    Of course the embroidered text was written in Latin but the illustrations speak for themselves 😉

    BayeuxTapestry scene 06 Viking ships Harold Wikipedia

    Bayeux Tapestry – Scene 06 – Viking ships Harold – Source: Wikipedia

    Viking ships and warriors, wild and farm animals, a rich medieval bestiary… these are elements we can find in the Orkneyinga Saga and in the beautifully illustrated painted panels of St Magnus cathedral.


    Bayeux Tapestry scene 19 William's calvarymen in battle  - Wikipedia

    Bayeux Tapestry – Scene 19 – William’s horsemen in battle – Source: Wikipedia

    Horses are omnipresent in the Bayeux Tapestry but I’ve seen only one in the St Magnus Cathedral panels.


    St Magnus cathedral painted panels ''building begins' © 2012 Scotiana

    St Magnus cathedral painted panels ”building begins’ © 2012 Scotiana

    It is a beautiful white horse which appears in one of the scenes illustrating the building of the cathedral.


    Bayeux Tapestry Horses in Battle of Hastings Wikipedia

    Bayeux Tapestry (Detail) Horses in Battle of Hastings – Source: Wikipedia

    I’ve always deplored the fate of horses in war…

    Bayeux Tapestry (Detail) Horse – Source : Wikipedia

    Innocent victims of human barbary…

    Horse armour r1 Kelvingrove Museum Glasgow  © 2000 Scotiana

    Horse armour – Kelvingrove Museum – Glasgow © 2000 Scotiana

    Some people seemed to have considered this problem with a touch of humanity and at least tried to protect these faithful friends of man.

    I remember how puzzled I was to see horse armours in Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow. Some of them are richly ornamented and must have cost a fortune.

    Rockpools & Daffodils George Mackay Brown Gordon Wright Publishing 1992

    Rockpools & Daffodils George Mackay Brown Gordon Wright Publishing 1992


    Coming back to Iain and Margaret’s question, I’ve found one of the weekly chronicles written by George Mackay Brown in the Orcadian. He is asking himself the same question but doesn’t seem to have found any answer :

    But how comes it that this flock of images has flown all the way from Arran to Orkney, across the Grampians and the gray Pentland whirls?

    Magnus Erlendson, trencher-bearer to the King of Norway, must have set eyes on an island in the Firth of Clyde as the great Norse fleet sailed southward to Wales and the Scillies. Who lived in Arran then?  – a few embattled original Celts, a few bright-haired incomers? We can’t tell. But, for every island, there is need for the dove to fall some time or other.

    And the hawk-ships, with Magnus the great king and Magnus the server at the king’s table, sailed on south; and the island faded behind them.

    (Rockpools & Daffodils – ‘Images from Arran’ 10/7/80 page33-34)

    Maybe Mrs Farquharson, the Arran children’s teacher and the children themselves are the only ones who could tell us what it was that attracted them to the subject 😉


    Before concluding this post about ‘tapestries’, I would like to draw your attention on another very interesting Scottish embroidered masterpiece entitled ‘The Battle of Prestonpans Tapestry 1745’. It is displayed in Prestonpans. We went to Prestonpans in 2006 but the tapestry was only unveiled in 2010.

    Illustrating Scottish historical events dating back to the 18 th century this tapestry which, like the Bayeux ‘tapestry’ is not woven but embroidered, has been inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry. It took two years and more than two hundred embroiderers to create the 103 panels of this artwork which measures 341 ft (104m) and is 98 ft longer that the Bayeux tapestry.

    The Prestonpans tapestry seems to be very popular and as I’ve just read on Wikipedia there will be an exhibition in Bayeux next year. Will there be a better opportunity to visit at the same time Bayeux and to see both tapestries on the same day?

    Exhibitions have included the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Storytelling Centre, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, to coincide with the Edinburgh Festival in 2011 and 2012, Alexandra Palace in London and Pornichet/ St Nazaire in France – from where the Prince embarked to launch his campaign in 1745. In September/ October 2013 it will be exhibited in Bayeux by invitation of the world famous tapestry that was its own inspiration.

    Source: Wikipedia


    Don’t miss my next post for, after these little detours via Bayeux and Prestonpans, I will tell you about the last painted panels of St Magnus Cathedral, the ones which describe the aftermath of St Magnus martyrdom and the marvellous origin of the building of the cathedral.

    Then we’ll continue our visit of Kirkwall and the Orkney islands before embarking at Stromness for Thurso…

    Bonne lecture!

    A bientôt.


    Share this:
    Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

    Leave a Reply

    You can use these HTML tags

    <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.