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Returning Bayeux Tapestry to UK ‘so important for learning’

It is understood that Theresa May will discuss loaning the tapestry to the UK when she meets the French president.

Returning the Bayeux Tapestry to the UK could allow British historians to finally study the back of the work.

It is understood that PM Theresa May will discuss loaning the tapestry to the UK when she meets French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday.

The 230ft long creation depicts events leading up to the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror against Harold, Earl of Wessex, and culminates in the Battle of Hastings.

The famous arrow-in-the-eye scene apparently depicting the death of Harold at Hastings in 1066 is believed to have been added in Victorian times.

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

She said: “When you get to know it as I have been able to do you realise what a treasure house of information it is about what was going on at the time.

“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.”

Although called a tapestry, it is an embroidery stitched in nine different panels.

The first record of the piece is in Bayeux Cathedral’s inventory of treasures in 1476, but it is believed it was stitched in England by nuns at St Augustine’s Abbey.

“The stitching is as beautiful on the back as it is on the front,” Ms Kneen said.

“From what I believe, the actual arrow was a Victorian addition. The actual arrow that was stitched on to 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.”

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.”

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

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

The Times reported that tests would need to be carried out to make sure the tapestry could be moved without being damaged.

The location for the display in Britain is not thought to have been decided, but staff at the British Museum are hopeful it might be chosen.

Hartwig Fischer, director of the museum, 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.

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

“We would be honoured and delighted to display it at the British Museum, the UK’s most visited and internationally respected institution.

“Here it would be seen by the widest UK and international audience in the context of a museum of world cultures.”

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