For 250 years, the cryptic inscription has exercised the minds of Britain’s finest theologians, historians and scientists, including Charles Darwin, Josiah Wedgwood and, most recently, the Second World War code-breakers of Bletchley Park.
But an anonymous American researcher was credited yesterday with the best stab yet at what the letters D.O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V.M. – carved on the Shepherd’s Monument at Lord Lichfield’s Shugborough estate in Staffordshire – might actually signify.
The answer appears to be “Jesus (As Deity) Defy” – a message left by an 18th century Christian sect Priory of Sion, which was forced to keep its views secret since the Church of England thought they were heretical. On first impressions, this rather perplexing answer may disappoint those who believed the letters pointed the way to the final destination of the Holy Grail, the cup Jesus is said to have used during the Last Supper. But Shugborough Hall was holding on to its hopes last night, since the Priory of Sion was the spiritual successor to the Knights Templar, who were known as the keepers of the Holy Grail.
The stone monument, built around 1748, contains a carved relief of Nicholas Poussin’s Les Bergers d’Arcadie II in reverse. Beneath it are the letters. The researcher, who applied standard codebreaking methods, initially came up with the message “Jesus H Defy” but says the H stands for Christ, hence the translation into “as deity”. This is said to give the message a meaning of defiance against prevailing Christian norms.