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27 November


365 great things about Staffordshire
The Mysterious Ancient Cryptic Code of The Shepherd's Monument

It is a secret code that has confounded some of the finest minds of the past 150 years, and proved irresistible to hundreds of conspiracy theorists.

Explanations for the highly unusualy and mysterious eight-letter inscription on the 18th century Shepherd's Monument, in the grounds of Shugborough Hall near Stafford, Staffordshire, have ranged from a coded love letter to Biblical verse.

Some have even suggested that the letters OUOSVAVV – framed at either end by DM – were a sign left by the Knights Templar pointing to where the Holy Grail was buried.

The Shugborough Inscription is a sequence of letters – O U O S V A V V, between the letters D M – carved on the 18th-century Shepherd's Monument below a mirror image of Nicolas Poussin's painting, the Shepherds of Arcadia.

It has never been satisfactorily explained, and has been called one of the world's top uncracked ciphertexts.


Josiah Wedgwood, Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens are all said to have attempted to solve the enigma and failed.

  •  In 1982, the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail suggested that Poussin was a member of the Priory of Sion, and that his Shepherds of Arcadia contained hidden meanings of great esoteric significance.
  • In 2003, author Dan Brown copied these themes in his bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code, and in 2004 Richard Kemp, the then general manager of the Shugborough Estate, launched a campaign which asserted a connection between Shugborough, and in particular the Shugborough inscription, and the Holy Grail.
  • Speculation then grew that the inscription may encode secrets related to tthe location of the Holy Grail. As part of the Shugborough promotion, some individuals who had previously worked as codebreakers at Bletchley Park pursued this line of investigation.

Other Theories

In recent decades, investigators have proposed several possible solutions. Some of these are acrostic, interpreting each letter as the initial letter of a word

  • One suggestion is that the eight letters are a coded dedication by George Anson to his deceased wife. In 1951 Morchard Bishop speculated that the letters might be an initialism for the Latin phrase Optimae Uxoris Optimae Sororis Viduus Amantissimus Vovit Virtutibus ("Best of wives, Best of sisters, a most devoted Widower dedicates (this) to your virtues").[3]
  • Steve Regimbal interprets the letters as standing for a new Latin translation of the phrase "Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity." (Ecclesiastes 12:8), namely Orator Ut Omnia Sunt Vanitas Ait Vanitas Vanitatum. He has speculated that the phrase may be the source of the earlier inscription "OMNIA VANITAS" which may have been carved on an alcove at the estate of one of Thomas Anson's associates, George Lyttleton.[4]
  • Former NSA linguist Keith Massey interprets the letters as an initialism for the Latin phrase Oro Ut Omnes Sequantur Viam Ad Veram Vitam ("I pray that all may follow the Way to True Life") in reference to the Biblical verse John 14:6, Ego sum Via et Veritas et Vita ("I am the Way, the Truth and the Life").[5]
  • Margaret, Countess of Lichfield (1899–1988) claimed that the inscription was a love message, referring to the lines Out Your Own Sweet Vale, Alicia, Vanishes Vanity. Twixt Deity and Man Thou, Shepherdess, The Way, but no source for these words has ever been traced.
  • A. J. Morton observes that some of the letters match the names of the residents of Shugborough in the early 19th century, and believes that the inscription denotes the words Orgreave United with Overley and Shugborough, Viscount Anson Venables Vernon.
  • a 2014 book by Dave Ramsden which references manuscript evidence from the Staffordshire Record Office to demonstrate that Thomas Anson's peers understood the monument to be a funerary monument, dedicated to a syncretic female figure known as the "Shepherdess". As such, the D. M. stands for Dis Manibus, and the eight-letter inscription is a cipher concealing the name of the figure being memorialized. The solution provides a detailed decryption effort which asserts that a polyalphabetic cipher was used to encrypt the name "Magdalen".
  • The author and researcher George Edmunds in his book Anson's Gold proposes that everyone has overlooked the fact that Lord George Anson was a naval man. His creation of the cipher was to hide the latitude and longitude (alphanumerical code) of an island on which was buried a huge Spanish treasure. He mounted a secret expedition in the 18th century to recover this treasure, which was located but due to unforeseen circumstances remains in place. Letters (in code) sent back to Lord Anson by the expedition leader validate and include part of the cipher, proof this is what the cipher was for.

Despite the many theories, staff at Shugborough Hall remain sceptical of all proposed solutions. A spokesman for the National Trust property was quoted in 2014 asserting, "We get five or six people a week who believe they have solved the code so we are a bit wary of them now."

What do you think - can you crack the Shugborough code?


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