Maximum number should have chance to see Bayeux Tapestry - May

Theresa May has welcomed plans for the Bayeux Tapestry to come to the UK as "very significant".

The Prime Minister said it was important that "the maximum number of people" will be able to see the work depicting the Battle of Hastings.

The British Museum would be "honoured and delighted" to display the tapestry if it comes to the UK, its director has said.

Hartwig Fischer said: "This would be a major loan, probably the most significant ever from France to the UK.

"It is a gesture of extraordinary generosity and proof of the deep ties that link our countries.

Director of the British Museum Hartwig Fischer hopes that the institution will be chosen to display the Bayeux Tapestry (Benedict Johnson/PA)
Hartwig Fischer hopes that the British Museum will be chosen to display the Bayeux Tapestry (Benedict Johnson/PA)

"The Bayeux Tapestry is of huge importance, as it recounts a crucial moment in British and French history, 1066."

He said his institution would be "honoured and delighted" to display the tapestry where it "would be seen by the widest UK and international audience in the context of a museum of world cultures".

But at Prime Minister's Questions, Mrs May received rival bids for a site to host the tapestry.

Bexhill and Battle MP Huw Merriman said Battle Abbey would be an appropriate location, on the site where the 1066 clash took place.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd also suggested her Hastings and Rye constituency should be in contention for the honour.

ARTS Bayeux
(PA Graphics)

Mrs May said: "It is very significant that the Bayeux Tapestry is going to be coming to the United Kingdom and that people are going to be able to see this."

Acknowledging the rival claims to host the tapestry she said: "I am sure we will be looking very carefully to ensure that the maximum number of people can take the benefit of seeing this tapestry."

Mrs May will discuss loaning the tapestry to the UK when she meets French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday.

It could take five years before it reaches British shores.

A spokesman for Mr Macron has said it will definitely not be in the UK before 2020.

Although called a tapestry, the work is in fact a 70 metre-long embroidery stitched in nine different panels.

It is currently on display in a darkened room in the Bayeux Museum in Normandy.

The tapestry will not travel before 2020 because of the need for restoration work to ensure it is not damaged in transit, an official in Mr Macron's office told reporters in France.

"This loan is under consideration, because there will be several months of restoration work at the Museum of Bayeux," said the official.

"It will not be before 2020 because it is an extremely fragile cultural treasure which will be subject to major restoration work before being transported anywhere."

Napoleon put the Bayeux Tapestry on display in Paris in 1804 and it was briefly exhibited at the city's Louvre in 1944.

Although the first record of the tapestry is in the Bayeux Cathedral inventory of treasures in 1476, it is believed it was stitched in England by nuns of St Augustine's Abbey.

Emmanuel Macron (Etienne Laurent/AP)
French President Emmanuel Macron is considering loaning the famous Bayeux Tapestry to the UK (Etienne Laurent/AP)

Dr Levi Roach, medieval historian at the University of Exeter, said: "As Britain seeks to renegotiate its relationship with France, there could scarcely be a better symbol of the close yet fraught ties that have bound the two nations together.

"Probably made in England for William the Conqueror's half-brother Odo of Bayeux, the Bayeux Tapestry - or more accurately embroidery - depicts events from a Norman perspective, but with real sympathy for the fate of the English.

"During the French Revolution it was confiscated for military use, for covering wagons, and was only saved from this fate by a local lawyer."

If it returns to the UK, medieval historians would finally have the chance to study the back of the work.

A section from the Bayeux tapestry (Stephane Maurice/Mairie de Bayeux via AP)
A section from the Bayeux tapestry (Stephane Maurice/Mairie de Bayeux via AP)

It is believed that the famous arrow-in-the-eye scene allegedly depicting the death of the English King Harold was added to the Bayeux Tapestry in Victorian times.

Speaking on Good Morning Britain on Wednesday, scholar Maggie Kneen said until now, scholars have only been provided with footage and photographs of the other side of the piece.

Ms Kneen said: "It was made in Canterbury, it's more or less been proven by art historical means - it's such a marvellous piece of news. It's just going to be so important for children to learn from it."

She added: "From what I believe, the actual arrow was a Victorian addition. The actual arrow that was stitched onto the tapestry was added on later on."

"Really to see the back of it rather than a CD of images would be tremendous for scholars."

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