This 300-year-old shoe was discovered behind a wall at St John's College and is thought to have been an amulet meant to ward off evil. (St. John’s College photo)

300-Year-Old Shoe Behind Wall of English College Was Meant As Protection From Malicious Spirits

(Read the article on one page)

Workers discovered a shoe this month behind a wall at a Cambridge University college in England that was probably meant to protect inhabitants of the building from mischievous or malicious spirits. The shoe is about 300 years old, and the workers found it in St. John’s College behind a wall in the Senior Common Room, a historic spot.

The Senior Common Room was originally the residence of the college’s master and was built between 1598 and 1602. However, a press release from Cambridge News, the university’s news service, state that the shoe was probably placed behind the wall panels during renovations in the 17 th or 18 th centuries.

Shoes and other items were considered amulets against evil and malevolent spirits in more superstitious times, the press release says. Discoveries of similar items have been made at Hampton Court Palace and Ely Cathedral.

An aerial shot of St. John’s College (Photo by St. John’s College)

An aerial shot of St. John’s College (Photo by St. John’s College)

Workers laying cables made the find August 1, the birthday of an academic and ghost story writer at Cambridge by the name of M.R. James. He often began his eerie tales by having characters discover antique objects, releasing spirits with ill-intent from the realm of the dead.

“No such misfortune has befallen St John's since the shoe was uncovered, however, which is welcome news for the college, since these days the Senior Combination Room is where many of its academic staff have their lunch,” the press release states.

The worn-out shoe is a size 6 in today’s measurements and it has a hole in the left heel. The most common type of amulet was the shoe, the press release states, but many other types of objects were placed in wall as protective charms. Other objects known to have been embedded behind walls include horses’ skulls, dead cats and “witch bottles” with human matter such urine and hair.

Another shot of the shoe (St. John’s College photo)

Another shot of the shoe (St. John’s College photo)

Amulets were not just embedded in walls. People of the times also placed them in roofs and beneath floors.

The Cambridge Archaeological Unit is analyzing the shot. Richard Newman of the unit is quoted in the press as saying:

“It was positioned between the chimney breast and the window, which is exactly the sort of location where you would expect to find a shoe being used in this way. Given its location, it is very likely that it was there to play a protective role for the master of the college. It may even have been one of his old shoes."

“This is one area where archaeological finds are quite important. There is not a lot of documentary evidence about people's beliefs in ritual magic in the past, and often the sources that we have are very negative and disparaging about such practices. These discoveries are important because they give us a material record of what people may have believed at the time.”

The press release says the shoe may have played a role in auspicious events that happened in the room, including, in the 1620s the betrothal of English King Charles I to his intended bride, Henrietta Maria. Also, in World War II, the allies planned part of the D-Day landings on the coast of Normandy region of France in the room, the press release states.

Top image: This 300-year-old shoe was discovered behind a wall at St John's College and is thought to have been an amulet meant to ward off evil. (St. John’s College photo)

By Mark Miller

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Human Origins

Adam and Eve (1640s) by Jacob Jordaens.
The common male and female ancestors of human beings are popularly known as “Genetic Adam” and “Genetic Eve.” A study conducted by researchers at the University of Sheffield claims all men can trace their origins to one male ancestor, ‘Adam’, who lived approximately 209,000 years ago. This places ‘Adam’ within the same time frame as ‘Eve’ - the ‘mother of all women’ – and provides evidence for the existence of a prehistoric ‘Adam and Eve.’

Ancient Places

The eerie mansion that is today known as Loftus Hall.
Driving along the isolated road that runs down the scenic Hook Peninsula in Ireland’s Ancient East, it is easy to spot the mansion that has earned itself the reputation as the most haunted house in Ireland. If ever a building fit the stereotype of a home haunted by its bloody and tragic past, this was it...

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article