History

300-Year-Old 'Magic' Shoe Found in U.K. College Wall

Archaeologists believe the shoe was buried in the wall at the end of the 17th century to ward off evil.

A "magic" shoe that was buried into a wall 300 years ago has been revealed by workers installing cables at a college in Cambridge, U.K.

The leather shoe was intended to ward off evil spirits, protecting residents at St John's College in an era of superstition.

Built between 1598 and 1602, the building was originally the residence of the Master of the College. Archaeologists believe the shoe was buried in the wall during renovations to its interior, between the end of the 17th century and mid-way through the 18th.

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Designed to bring luck and repel evil influences, shoes were often placed next to doors or windows. In the case of St John's College, the shoe was found beside a fireplace in the Senior Combination Room -- an area now used as a lunchroom by many of the college's academic staff.

"It was positioned between the chimney breast and the window," Richard Newman, from Cambridge Archaeological Unit, said.

"Given its location, it is very likely that it was there to play a protective role for the Master of the College. It may even have been one of his old shoes," he added.

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The shoe is made for the left foot of a man. It measures 9 5/8 inches, (about a size 6 by modern standards) and appears well-worn, with a large hole in the sole.

The shoe seems to have done its job well, as the Senior Combination Room has quite an auspicious history.

"In the 1620s it was where Charles I was betrothed to his future wife, Henrietta Maria, and during the Second World War it was also used to plan part of the D-Day landings," the university said in a statement.

Hauntings have, however, been reported in other parts of St John's.

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"Most famously, the ghost of the College's 19th Century Master, James Wood, has been spotted several times on O Staircase in Second Court, where he lived when he was a poor student," the university said.

This is not the first time that a shoe has been found embedded in a wall to ward off evil spirits. Concealed shoes have previously been found in rural cottages, urban town houses, at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire and in Hampton Court Palace, in Richmond upon Thames Although shoes were the most common item of choice for keeping spirits at bay, more gruesome objects were also used for this purpose. Dead cats, horses' skulls, and "witch bottles," which contained substances such as hair and urine, have also been found hidden in walls, roofs and beneath floors.