Margate Shell Grotto

Thirty-five miles north of Dover is the English town of Margate in Kent – a coastal town with 57,000 inhabitants and a proud maritime history. What makes Margate special is the presence of a mysterious grotto, which has come to be known as the ‘Shell Grotto of Margate’. In 1835, the local school principal, James Newlove, wanted to build a duck pond in his garden. While digging, his shovel disappeared into an opening underneath a displaced capstone. He lowered his son Joshua on a rope to retrieve the item.

 What makes the shell grotto of Margate so mysterious is that there is nothing known about it. 

All of the walls were covered in an exquisite tapestry of shells, since found to have been stuck there with an adhesive based on gypsum and volcanic elements. Over four million cockle, whelk, mussel and oyster shells formed various mosaics depicting images of the Tree of Life, phalluses, gods and goddesses, the horns or a ram, a three-pointed star, as well as the sun and the moon.


Could it be an ancient pagan or druid temple? the home of a secret sect or a folly?

Interesting that just before the arrival of each spring equinox, the sun enters the underground realm through a dome with a circular opening that acts like a pinhole camera. As the season goes on the ball of light reflected on the temple walls grows larger and continues to move over certain shell ‘lines’ or bars which act as a solar calendar. At midday on the summer solstice, the light resembles an egg that glows in the belly of a mosaic snake. At that point it is reflected into square apertures built above the grotto’s three passages that radiate out from the dome – and that light is bounced down onto the altar in the rectangular ‘temple’ chamber.

It is thought to have been constructed around 1141AD (Twyman) Twyman also has linked the temple to the mediavel Order of the Knights Templar and claims that it would have been used for Masonic rituals –‘with a keystone over the entrance arch and its altar having everything required for Royal Arch Masonry…while mosaic design centres cleverly supply the basis for Masonic symbols, such as the Compass and Square, Star of David, Pentagram and Hardoian Tetrahedron, a symbol of great significance to the Templars and Cabbalists. ..There are also four panels which have above them the ancient God symbol of the three rays of heavenly light. Beneath one of these sits the Pleiades constellation, while the second has a Tree of Jesse surmounted by a tiny rose – another symbol of the virgin – and the third an ‘x’, which I believe to be the cross isolated from the banner of the Paschal Lamb, symbol of the Baptist.’

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