Code cracked as hunt for Grail goes on
IT is one of the most enduring myths of Western European literature, a cryptic message which has inspired tales from Arthurian legends to Dan Brown’s best-selling crime novel The Da Vinci Code.
But after months of research, experts believe they may now hold the key to the 250-year-old code, which is carved on a monument at the Earl of Lichfield’s Shugborough Hall estate in Staffordshire.
The Shepherd’s Monument, commissioned in 1748 by the then earl, Thomas Anson, features a carved image of a Nicolas Poussin painting with the letters D.O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V.M. underneath.
The cryptic inscription was rumoured to point to the location of the Holy Grail - the cup Jesus is said to have used at the Last Supper.
But veteran code-breakers from Bletchley Park, the former Second World War intelligence centre-turned museum in Buckinghamshire, now say the code is likely to stand for "Jesus (As Deity) Defy", a message from a sect called the Priory of Sion, a secret order with similar beliefs to the Knights Templar. Both sects were held to be heretical, notably by the Church of England, because they considered Jesus to be an earthly prophet, not a heavenly one.
The new theory, put forward by an anonymous US codebreaker to the specialists at Bletchley, is that the inscription was kept secret because of its controversial nature.
Initially, he came up with the message "Jesus H Defy" and said that the H stands for Christ from the Greek letter X or chi meaning "messiah". In the context of the monument’s time, he said, it can be decoded as "as deity". This gives a strong meaning of defiance against prevailing Christian norms.
At the moment, permission to publish the author’s submission is being sought.
His theory appears to fit with other symbols on the Anson family’s monument. It bears the image by Poussin, who is thought to have been a Grand Master of the Knights Templar. The painting provided some inspiration for Brown’s novel.
The veteran wartime codebreaker Oliver Lawn, who began assessing possible solutions to the code in May with experts from GCHQ, believes the "Jesus H Defy" theory to be the most plausible of the nine submitted.
However, Mr Lawn, who worked on breaking the Enigma code with Alan Turing at the wartime intelligence establishment Bletchley Park, said he was "not sure" whether it was conclusive.
Mr Lawn, 86, said that trying to solve the Shugborough code had been "much more difficult" than cracking Enigma. He said: "For any code, you need a minimum amount of encoded material, very much larger than ten letters. No code of ten letters is possible to break definitively so to break the Shugborough code, you have to take into account the circumstances and history."
He believes this is the best theory so far because of the Anson family’s links with secret societies.
People from around the world came up with ideas connected to numerology, UFOs, secret messages to lost lovers and even Nostradamus.
Mr Lawn’s wife, Sheila, 81, who also worked at Bletchley Park, has a more romantic interpretation of the code - she believes it is a tribute being paid by a lovelorn widower to his wife and her sister.
Richard Kemp, general manager at Shugborough Estate, said he was very excited by the news. "It’s a major advance. It is the first solid evidence of a link between the monument, the Holy Grail and the Knights Templar," he said.
The order, which captured Jerusalem during the Crusades, were known as the keepers of the Holy Grail. Mr Kemp said that the previous connection was through the Poussin painting which seemed to show the Anson family were interested in the Holy Grail by virtue of the painter’s apparent affiliation with the Knights. But it could have been a coincidence. This theory was more concrete.
With that, Mr Kemp was off to explore his theories that Shugborough’s other eight monuments may yield yet more about the Holy Grail.
One place linked with the Grail is Rosslyn Chapel, in Midlothian, featured in Brown’s novel.
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