Imagining Staffordshire

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Shugborough Hall and the Holy Grail

The Shepherd’s Monument at Shugborough Hall which some believe holds the final clue to the secret location of the Holy GrailIn the grounds of Shugborough Hall, the ancestral home of the Earls of Lichfield on the north-eastern edge of Cannock Chase, there stands a monument that some believe holds the key to the secret location of the Holy Grail. According to legend, the Holy Grail was the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper which became imbued with miraculous healing properties. It was used by Jesus’ follower Joseph of Arimathea to collect a few drops of Christ’s blood during the Crucifixion. A few years later, Joseph escaped the Roman persecution of Christians by travelling to Britain where he hid the sacred relic. In 1982, British authors Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, in their book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, suggested that the Grail story was an allegory for a secret bloodline of Christ’s descendents after a secret marriage to his closest female follower Mary Magdalene. In their book, which in part inspired Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, the authors claim that many clues exist to reveal the Grail’s true significance, one being a painting by the seventeenth-century French artist Nicholas Poussin entitled The Arcadian Shepherds. A copy of this painting is carved onto the so-called Shepherd’s Monument at Shugborough Hall, and many believe that it is the final clue as to the whereabouts of the actual cup of the last Supper.

Whether or not the monument is a clue to the location of the Holy Grail, it certainly seems to incorporate some kind of code. The monument, erected in 1748, is a kind of blocked archway around six metres high surrounding a marble slab carved with a scene showing a group of ancient shepherds examining what appears to be an ornate tomb. Suspicions that the monument might be some kind of Grail code are based on the fact that the carving strangely depicts the scene as a mirror image of Poussin’s original, and below it there is an odd arrangement of ten Roman letters that might be some kind of cipher. No explanation survives as to the purpose of the monument, the peculiar mirror imaging, or the mysterious inscription below it. So popular has the mystery of the Shepherd’s Monument become that in 2004, two World War Two code breakers who had worked at Bletchley Park were invited to attempt to crack the code. Their expertise may have helped defeat Adolf Hitler, but the cryptic Shepherd’s Monument had them stumped.


The mysterious Roman letters inscribed on the Shepherd’s Monument have yet to be deciphered

I have myself spent many years investigating the Grail legend, although my own research has concentrated on its links with the King Arthur story. I even located an alabaster cup, claimed by some to be the Holy Grail, found in the 1920s in a labyrinth of artificial caves cut into a cliff at Hawkstone Park in Shropshire. This cup, however, is said to have been a scent jar that belonged to Mary Magdalene. Interestingly, during the Middle Ages the term ‘Grail’ was applied to a number of vessels that were believed to have been used to collect Christ’s blood. The cup of Mary Magdalene was just one of them. The most famous, of course, was the cup of the Last Supper, and if the legend is to be believed then it still might be hidden somewhere in Britain. What I have found of particular interest concerning the Shugborough Shepherd’s Monument are possible links with the Hawkstone Park mystery. The clues to the location of the cup discovered at Hawkstone Park were in the form of a stained-glass window and a series of ciphered clues called the Shepherd’s Songs, referring to the Psalms of the Old Testament which were traditionally composed by the Israelite shepherd king David. As both Grail mysteries concern shepherds, there might be a connection, especially since the architect who designed the Shepherd’s Monument in 1748 was named Thomas Wright. The man who left the clues to reveal the location of the cup hidden at Hawkstone Park was also named Thomas Wright. He lived in the mid-nineteenth century and might have been a descendant of the Shepherd’s Monument architect. Anyone who is interested in the Shugborough Grail mystery might want to visit the relevant pages concerning the Hawkstone Park cup on my website linked below.

Directions

Shugborough Hall is open to the public everyday between mid March and the end of October. The entrance to Shugborough Hall is six kilometres east of Stafford town centre, to the left of the A 513 to Rugeley. Landranger Map 127, grid reference 975211.

Links

Shugborough Hall Website

The Grail of Hawkstone Park

Poussin’s The Arcadian Shepherds

The Shepherd’s Monument

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