At Shugborough Hall in Colwich, Staffordshire, England, stands the 18th century Shepherd’s Monument, commissioned by Thomas Anson, paid for by his brother, Admiral George Anson, and fashioned by the Flemish sculptor Peter Scheemakers. It was erected to memorialize Lady Elizabeth York, wife of Admiral George Anson.
The monument is set within a stone arch to create the illusion of an entrance to a cave. The woman accompanied by three shepherds is the Virgin Mary mourning the loss of her son. Two of the shepherds are point to a carving in Latin; Et In Arcadia Ego translated as ‘I am also in Arcadia’ or ‘I am, even in Arcadia’. The marble bas-relief is similar to Nicolas Poussin’s painting “The Shepherds of Arcadia” (Arcadia being Heaven) which depicts the adoration of the shepherds at the nativity.
The Grade II historic building which was listed on 17 March 1953 contains ten engraved Roman letters: O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V. and D M which have become a source of mystery and controversy. Following Dan Brown’s 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code, a theory evolved that the engraving was a code which could reveal the location of the Holy Grail (the chalice in which the blood of Jesus was collected). This theory arose from the notion that members of the Anson family were in the Priory of Sion, the secret society widely regarded as the successor to the medieval Knights Templar.
Below are several solutions that I personally find the most plausible. There are many more suggestions which involve removing letters or reading them backwards to arrive at a meaning. In reality, the inscription remains a mystery.
- Orator ut ominia sunt vanitas ait vanitas vanitorum translated as VANITY OF VANITY SAITH THE PREACHER, ALL IS VANITY.
- A Latin inscription written entirely in abbreviations translated as, IN ACCORDANCE WITH HIS VOW HER HUSBAND LAID TO REST THE BONES OF HIS BELOVED WIFE.
- A love poem; Optima Uxoris Optima Sororis Viduus Amantissimus Vovit Virtutibus, translated as BEST WIFE, BEST SISTER, WIDOWER MOST LOVING VOWS VIRTUOUSLY.
- Historian A. J. Morton has suggested that the first line of letters represent family initials on a memorial. The letters D and M on the second line are considered an abbreviation of the Latin Diis Manibus, DEDICATED TO THE SHADES which is a common inscription on Roman tombstones and monuments (shades was a term for spirits of the dead.)
- The code has also been deciphered as OUT OF YOUR OWN SWEET VALE ALICIA VANISH VANITY TWIXT DEITY AND MAN, THOU SHEPHERDESS THE WAY (Alicia is a mythical shepherdess who kept her flock on one of the seven hills of Rome).