The enigma of the Shugborough Inscription


In the grounds of Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire, England, sits an 18 th-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

The Shepherd’s Monument, which contains the enigmatic Shugborough inscription. ( Wikipedia).

The Shepherd’s Monument was commissioned by Thomas Anson, a member of the British Parliament, and crafted sometime between 1748 and 1763 by Flemish sculptor Peter Schee. The monument consists of a relief of Poussin’s painting, ‘The Shepherds of Arcadia’, which depicts a woman and three shepherds, with two shepherds pointing towards a tomb. Carved on the tomb is “Et in arcadia ego,” or “I am even in Arcadia” in Latin.

The Shepherd’s Monument

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’ by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, 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.

The ten-letter Shugborough Inscription

The ten-letter Shugborough Inscription. ( Wikipedia)

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.  

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


The Solution to the Shugborough Code and the Location of the Holy Grail – Available from:

The Shugborough Inscription – Historic Mysteries. Available from:

Shepherd’s Monument Mystery Solved! – Leon’s Planet. Available from:

Shugborough Inscription – Wikipedia. Available from:

By M R Reese


rbflooringinstall's picture

i think you might have something there.

Peace and Love,


as you can see this relief is some kinda mirror-inverted... maybe thats the clue to this puzzle....."m.aavason.d

In addition Arcadia was considered an idyllic paradise. Located in Greece it had a temperate climate, and a pastoral, simplistic existence. Therefore the inscription could mean, "Even in this sublime place Death (or corruption, decay) exists."

The first oddity noticed is the monument's depiction of the Arcadian Shepherds is reverse of the original painting (woman is on left side rather than the right).


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