France to loan Britain famed 11th-century Bayeux Tapestry

PARIS (AP) — French officials plan to loan the historic Bayeux Tapestry to Britain, allowing the 11th-century artwork depicting the conquest of England to leave France for the first time in centuries.

The mayor of the Normandy town of Bayeux, Patrick Gomont, said Wednesday that the loan is about five years away because restoration work is required to ensure the fragile 70-meter (230-foot) cloth isn’t damaged in transit. It currently resides in a museum in the town.

The Times of London newspaper reported that French President Emmanuel Macron will announce the loan of the artwork on Thursday when he meets British Prime Minister Theresa May for talks on Brexit, security and border issues.

The tapestry is a both a treasured work of medieval art and a valuable historical document that depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066. It last left Normandy during World War II, when it was moved to Paris.

Conservative British lawmaker Tom Tugendhat, who heads Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said the loan was a “fantastic gesture of goodwill” by France.

Levi Roach, a medieval historian at the University of Exeter, said the tapestry was a symbol of the “close yet fraught” relationship between Britain in France. Its loan is especially resonant as Britain prepares to leave the European Union and strike up new relationships with its European neighbors.

“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,” May told lawmakers in the House of Commons.

May’s spokesman would not comment on whether Britain planned to loan France anything in return.

The venue where the tapestry will be displayed in Britain hasn’t been announced. The director of the British Museum said he would be “honored and delighted” to put it on show.

“This would be a major loan, probably the most significant ever from France to the U.K.,” museum director Hartwig Fischer said.

The tapestry depicts the invasion from the victorious French standpoint, but many historians believe it was stitched in England.