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What Is The Enigma Of The Shugborough Inscription?

The Shepherds of Arcadia by Nicolas Poussin, c 1638. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Shepherds of Arcadia by Nicolas Poussin, c 1638. (Wikimedia Commons)

On the grounds of Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire, England, sits an 18th-Century monument known as the Shepherd’s Monument. The Monument contains a relief, depicting a copy of a Nicolas Poussin
painting, and a cipher text that has stumped historians and decoders for hundreds of years.

What is the meaning of this outwardly simple, 10-letter text? Why was it carved onto the monument? Was
it a declaration of undying love, a code to locate something, or a Biblical reference? While the
meaning of the Shugborough Inscription has never been verified, there have been several theories as to
what it means.

The Shepherd’s Monument depicts a woman and three shepherds standing around a tomb. (Wikipedia)

The Shepherd’s Monument depicts a woman and three shepherds standing around a tomb. (Wikipedia)

The mysterious inscription that has yet to be decoded is located beneath the relief, and contains the letters: O U O S V A V V.

Framing these eight letters, at a slightly lower level, are
the letters D M. So cryptic is the cipher text, that it became a feature in the international
bestseller ‘The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’ and Dan Brown’s historical thriller, ‘The Da Vinci
Code’.

Both books presented the theory that Nicolas Poussin was a member of the secretive Priory of
Sion, a Medieval monastic order, and that his painting ‘The Shepherds of Arcadia’ contains deep
esoteric messages hidden within it.

Several famous individuals have attempted to determine the meaning of the inscription, including
Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, and Josiah Wedgewood. Each of them failed to determine the purpose or
meaning of the letters.

Numerous theories have been put forward regarding the meaning of this cryptic
message, none of which have been verified.

Some of the interpretations are acrostic, trying to match each letter to the first letter of a word,
while others are non-acrostic. The letters may have been a coded dedication to Admiral George Anson’s
deceased wife. In 1951, it was speculated that the letters stand for “Optimae Uxoris Optimae Sororis
Viduus Amantissimus Vovit Virtutibus,” or “Best of wives, best of sisters, a most devoted widower
dedicates [this] to your virtues.”

The letters may represent the phrase “Orator Ut Omnia Sunt Vanitas Ait Vanitas Vanitatum,” or “Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity” from Ecclesiastes 12:8. The letters may represent the
inhabitants of Scarborough at the time the monument was constructed, namely “Orgreave United with
Overley and Shugborough, Viscount Anson Venables Vernon.”

The code may represent a number, in the form
of Roman Numerals. One individual has ascertained that the Roman numeral values of D, M, and the three Vs equals 1515, possibly representing the year 1515. Further inspection of ancient variations of Roman numerals show that values can be assigned to every letter in the series, except U.

This leads to a total of 1594, which is the year Nicolas Poussin was born. Another accounting of
letters shows them adding to a sum of 2810. This number may be significant, as Scarborough is 2810
miles from the “Money Pit” on Oak Island, in Nova Scotia, Canada.

One theory is that the letters OUSV are pronounced as “losef,” referring to Biblical prophet Joseph. A
final theory is that the letters VV amount to 10, and the remaining letters are an anagram of DEVOUT
MASON. One of the most popular beliefs, which emerged following the world-wide fascination with ‘The
Da Vinci Code’ and ‘The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’, is that the inscription encodes secrets
relating to the Priory of Sion.

Indeed, Pierre Plantard, founder of the fringe fraternal organization,
adopted “Et in Arcadia ego”, which appears on both Nicolas Poussin’s painting and the Shepherd’s
Monument, as the motto of both his family and the Priory of Sion.

Proponents of this theory believe that decoding the inscription, supposedly masonic symbols, would
lead to the location of the Holy Grail. It is not clear whether the inscription will ever be decoded,
nor whether it was ever intended to be. Whoever inscribed it must have known that the letters would
last throughout the centuries, and be viewed by civilizations to come.

It is possible that only a select few ever knew the purpose of the letters and what they stand for. So for now, the Shugborough Inscription remains a mysterious puzzle for individuals to try to solve, though its true meaning may have already been lost to the pages of history.

What Is The Enigma Of The Shugborough Inscription?

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