Ancient Origins Tour IRAQ

Ancient Origins Tour IRAQ Mobile

The Shepherds of Arcadia, by Nicolas Poussin, is reproduced on the Shepherd’s Monument, along with the Shugborough Inscription. Source: Public domain

The Enigma of the Shugborough Inscription


In 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 are several theories as what it could mean.

The Shepherd’s Monument on the Shugborough Estate, has stumped historians due to its mysterious Shugborough Inscription. (Public domain)

The Shepherd’s Monument on the Shugborough Estate, has stumped historians due to its mysterious Shugborough Inscription. (Public domain)

Deciphering the Shugborough inscription and the Shepherds of Arcadia

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 entitled The Shepherds of Arcadia, which depicts a woman and three shepherds, with two shepherds pointing towards a tomb.

Carved on the tomb are the words Et in arcadia ego, Latin for “I am even in Arcadia”. A 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 The Shepherds of Arcadia contains deep esoteric messages hidden within it.

The ten-letter Shugborough Inscription. (Public domain)

The ten-letter Shugborough Inscription. (Public domain)

Eclectic Characters Obsessed with the Shugborough Inscription

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, which means "Best of wives, best of sisters, a most devoted widower dedicates [this] to your virtues.”
  • The letters may represent the Latin phrase Orator Ut Omnia Sunt Vanitas Ait Vanitas Vanitatum, which translates to mean “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 so-called 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.

The Shepherd’s Monument in Staffordshire, England. (Public domain)

The Shepherd’s Monument in Staffordshire, England. (Public domain)

The Shugborough Inscription and the Priory of Sion

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 the phrase 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.

In reference to these claims, Medium is adamant that they are “utter fiction” and “pseudohistory,” going so far as to quote the historian Richard Barber as saying that “essentially, the whole argument is an ingeniously constructed series of suppositions combined with forced readings of such tangible facts as are offered.” Others, such as Robert McCrum from The Observer is quoted as saying:

These kinds of books do appeal to an enormous audience who believe them to be ‘history’, but actually, they aren’t history, they are a kind of parody of history.

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.

Shrugging off the conspiracy theories and fake history, thanks to an interview with a linguistic expert, Medium explained that the Shepherd’s Monument and its Shugborough Inscription at Shugborough Hall were “meant to be understood in the context of Roman funerary architecture.” Nevertheless, 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.

Top image: The Shepherds of Arcadia, by Nicolas Poussin, is reproduced on the Shepherd’s Monument, along with the Shugborough Inscription. Source: Public domain

By M. R. Reese


MacGowan, D. No date. “The Shugborough Inscription” in Historic Mysteries. Available at:

No name. No date. “The Mysterious Ancient Cryptic Code of the Shepherd's Monument” in Staffordshire County Council. Available at:

Priz, L. 2012. “Shepherd’s Monument Mystery Solved!” in Leon’s Planet. Available at:

East, M. 2020. “The Truth About: The Shugborough Inscription” in Medium. Available at:



“Shugborough Inscription Decoding on Shepherd’s Monument” video link is My findings are not just suggestive but actual decodings. In three of my videos, the Carthage goddess of fertility, Tanit, was part of the message. In my Shugborough Inscription decoding, the message not only names Tanit, but also her rival of death, Mot. My decoding of the Teutonic Order’s seal in the “Sword Brothers History, Seal Translation & Templar-Oak Island Connection” video also discovered the message Tanit, and, additionally, she is also passingly mentioned in my “Black Madonna Decoding,” which decoded letters stitched on the garments of a Madonna found on the Canary Island of Tenerife. Check out all the decodings on my Brothers of the Sword Production YouTube channel at and leave a comment about your thoughts on the validity of my decodings…

The Shepherds Monument at Shugborough Hall ...
The two lower letters, the ‘D’ and the ‘M’ refer to (King) Dagobert Merovingian. The upper line letters, O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V broadly translate as, Observer Use the Object at Shugborough to View or understand, Also VISA Versa. The relief picture is best seen as the reverse of a transparency.
Instead of viewing it from the bridge at Les Pontils, one sees it from Rennes-Les-Chateau (Visa Versa). This also applies to the Chinese House, which is located on the West side of the group of monuments, when theoretically it should be where the Doric Temple stands ... that is until one understands why Thomas Anson place it where it is.
On the Monument, the shepherd's thumb of his left hand is immediately after the 'R' in Arcadia – alphabetically followed by the ‘S’, his index finger is planted on the 'N' in the second word 'IN'. The word 'Ego' is dropped from the end of 'Et In Arcadia Ego' to leave ‘Et IN ARCADIA’. The thumb ‘picks up’ the ‘S’ and the finger overwrites the ‘N’, thus reading ‘ET IS ARCADIA’ – or, ‘Also in Arcadia’.
All the monuments are Templar based and tell an intriguing story.

Is there a family who can tell better?

One must rember when speaking Latin, the letter V resulted in a W sound. Therefore you cannot attribute the saying that is suggested in the text to the acronym on the sculpture. Also, many do not realize the year 1500 (MD or the retaining numerals amongst the acronym in reverse as the sculpture has reversed properties relative to the painting by Poussin) was believed by European Christians as the start of the end of the world. Whether that immediately makes sense in any format of any of these theories or not, I believe that is what the retaining numerals mean. And one can not simply pick and choose which numerals or letters to add together, in your theory regarding Poussin's birth year, you completely ignore the U, which could be so little as a directional arrow, or even placeholder. But if it had NO meaning it would not have been included.

Many prominent clues have been overlooked by previous attempts to decode the Shugborough Inscription. To start with, you have to take into account where the two shepherd’s hands and arms are on the tomb. The kneeling shepherd’s thumb is going over the R in “Et In Arcadia Ego,” and the letters showing left of his thumb spells ET IN A or ETINA. If you read these letters backwards (because of the relief’s reverse imaging of Poussin’s Shepherds of Arcadia painting), it’s the name ANITE, which is the suffix for Cana-ANITE. As you will see, we will find two names for a Canaanite goddess of fertility named Tinate, and their god of death named Mot. The word EGO (that decodes to Mot) has to be decoded with the Shugborough Inscription of D-OUOSVAVV-M. Secondly, the first word of the Inscription is DUO, so you have to move the U back of DOU one letter to make the word DUO. Thirdly, the VV of D-OUOSVAVV-M is a W, double U, or considered two Us, so the Ws that you come across are double Us in the decoding, which means you have to go back 1 for each U in the alphabet for the letters TT; the clue was moving the U back 1 for the word DUO. Fourthly, the key numbers to run along the alphabet is 10 or 8 forwards or backwards because D-OUOSVAVV-M has 10 letters and OUOSVAV has 8 letters. Once you find DUO O ANITTE MOTT, you have to move one T in each TT on this decoded line back by 8 and 10 letter places, using the original letter of T in the count, to make DUO TO TANITE (&) MOT. To follow along with this one-webpage decoding, visit my website You will learn the various meanings of the word ARCADIA that give you many clues to the decoding, why the shepherds hold their staffs at different angles, and another reason why this goddess is called Tanite instead of Tanit, her Carthaginian name.


mrreese's picture

M R Reese

M R Reese is a writer and researcher with a passion for unlocking the mysteries of ancient civilizations. She believes that only by understanding where we come from, can we truly understand our life path and purpose. She has earned... Read More

Next article