tapestry

The Pirou Castle Tapestry tells the story of an extremely dense period in Norman history, from the arrival of the Vikings on the Cotentin shores up to the conquest of Sicily.

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The poet Louis Beuve was the first with the idea of producing a long strip of wool-embroidered linen telling the story of the Conquest of Southern Italy and Sicily. He even hoped that this embroidery would adorn Coutances Cathedral for certain formal ceremonies, just as the Telle du Conquest d’Angleterre (Bayeux Tapestry) adorned Bayeux Cathedral each year on the “jour et par les octaves des reliques”. (the feast of relics and its octaves)

Before started embroidering the Pirou Tapestry, Therese Ozenne (who is in charge of the Tapestry), she perfected her stitching skills over six years by embroidering scenes from the Bayeux Tapestry. Hence, she acquired, not only great dexterity in the technique referred to as the “Bayeux stitch”, but also a perfect grasp of the poise and gestures of characters and animals, the representation of ships, trees… in other words, she completely immersed herself in the style and the spirit of ancient Norman Tapestry.

“Incendie” Fire in the Coutances Cathedral, save the Saint relics and the Vikings keep “troupeaux” lost.

Embroider ten meters in one year

Her experience revealed that one person alone can embroider ten meters, or thirty feet, in one year, by working three hours per day, eye fatigue preventing much longer work periods.

The poet is proud to boast that the Conquest of Southern Italy and of Sicily was the work of Coutances-born heroes ; other Normans joined the Hauteville sons, among which knights from the Pays d’Ouche ; however it appears evident that William Iron Arm, Dreux and Onfroy, and in particular, Robert Guiscard and the Great Count Roger, all of them Tancred sons born and bred in the area which is today known as Hauteville-la-Guichard, were the principal conquerors and leading organizers of the Norman domination.

It was important that a permanent place of exhibition be found for the Tapestry. It appeared to us that Pirou Castle provided the ideal location for such an exhibition. It is important to note that not all of the Tancred sons left for Italy ; as we have already mentioned, Serlon married the Sire of Pirou’s daughter and, quite logically, settled in, as they say in Normandy, th “position” (i.e Castle) his spouse brought when his father bequeathed it upon her.

Our Telle du Conquest de Sicile, intended to be both popular and breathtaking, pays relatively little attention to the true chronology of events. In the same style as the apocryphal Gospels which reassemble scattered details to reunite them in an apparently coherent manner, the first few meters of our Tapestry depicts one single character, described by three different sources, each of them revealing different aspects.


Reconstruction of the Pirou fortified castle, the comeback of the bishop of Coutances and baptismal of Normans, a predicator “ambulant” talks about the Saint Cross and Saint Sites…

The roman de Rou by Master Wace, reveals that when Willialm the Conqueror’s father, the Duke Robert the Liberal, spurred by his piety, visited the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, he met a pilgrim from Pirou who asked news his Duke wished him to take back to Normandy. He replied in old French : “Tell my friends – and the folks from my land – that despite the devil, I am safe and sound, and will go to heaven.” It is noteworthy that the Duke does not use the informal French “tu” (you) when addressing the pilgrim. Hence the supposition that he was a respectable and important person ; many have concluded that he was probably the Lord of Pirou himself.

Furthermore, according to historians, it was a pilgrim on his return journey from the Holy Places who, because of an oath, had passed by the Monte-Saint-Angelo Sanctuary in Monte Gargano, and who had told Tancred of Hauteville and his sons of the exploits of the first Normans to have arrived in Southern Italy.

Finally, Pirou and Hauteville are both close to the town of Periers, a large burgh which was to become the seat of a bailiwick and the center of a market. Yet, in Périers, there is a piece of the True Cross, claimed to have been brought during the very early Middle Ages by a Cotentin knight travelling back from the Holy Land, and whose horse reared and refused to cross the ford of the River Holecrotte, running 120 feet to the west of the church. The church bells began to chime although no-one was pulling the ropes, candles were lit without any human hand (similar marvels are said to have occurred in the Coutances Cathedral Miracula (verses) from the Black Book, dating back to the 10th century. The knight of course, left his precious relic there, and Periers church became a place of pilgrimage to Saint Saviour, attracting crowds each year on Good Friday.

By combining these three sources, our story is very probably an imitation of popular belief in the Middl Ages which groups together three distinct people within one character : Jesus’ disciple Mary of Magdala, Mary of Bethany and the anonymous sinner described in Luke Chapter 7. All three venerated Christ. The first bought perfume for his shroud : the two others perfumed his head and his feet during two ceremonies, merged into one, according to certain accounts.

The last scenes of the Tapestry would undoubtedly have gone on to depict the end of the Conquest of Sicily, Robert Guiscard’s military operations in Greece and the Conquest of Antioch by his son, Bohemond, but, at this stage, we can already appreciate the significance of the Norman Empire in the Mediterranean.

Text : Abbot MARCEL LELÉGARD.

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Our brochure

Established in a Viking site, Pirous’ fortified castle was founded in the 12th century. The old legend of the geese is one of the most popular in the Cotentin ; it pretends to link the origin of the castle to the Scandinavian invasions.

A fortified castle dates from the 12th century...

Situated in the region of Coutances, it is situated in 8km in the southwest of Lessay and in 1,2km of the beach.
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