Alchemy and Immortality – The Tale of Nicolas Flammel and the Lapis Philosophorum
For mankind, immortality has always been a remarkably fascinating idea. Throughout time, the quest to eliminate death in order to achieve indefinite life in the physical body has taken various forms. One of the most well-known of such attempts was alchemy. The main goal of alchemy was to produce the Lapis Philosophorum, the Philosopher’s Stone, a legendary substance with the property of turning common metal into gold with a high level of purity and a substance which could help in making the elixir of long life. This prevented death, thus making the drinker immortal. According to some accounts it was sufficient to drink from the elixir only once to prevent death indefinitely, while other accounts sustained that a regular consumption of the elixir was necessary in order to remain immortal.
The Philosopher’s Stone
In alchemical engravings, the Philosopher’s Stone is usually represented symbolically in the form of an egg, sometimes along with the alchemical snake. Many alchemists claimed to have found the Stone and to have made the elixir of immortality, however few have managed to prove it. In Asia, it was very common for emperors to order their subjects to go look for someone who could make the elixir and to bring it back to them so that they could enjoy the joy of everlasting life, however many were brought false elixirs which only managed to offer death instead of the much desired dream of immortality.
"Squaring the circle": an alchemical symbol (17th century) of the creation of the philosopher's stone. ( Public Domain )
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Nicolas Flammel and the Discovery of the Philosopher’s Stone
Despite the failed attempts, one name has survived in history associated with an actual discovery of the Philosopher’s Stone. This was Nicolas Flammel, a French librarian and scribe who lived between 1330 and 1418 in Paris. He married his love, Pernelle, in 1360 and together they became the most famous couple of alchemists.
One day, Flammel went to the market where an old book caught his eye. It contained an old text written by Abraham the Jew and Flammel decided to buy it, paying the cheap price of two florins. The pages of the book contained images which detailed some of the steps of the Great Work, as the alchemical process of creating the Philosopher’s Stone was called. At first, Nicolas Flammel was unable to understand what the images actually meant, so he left for Compostella, Spain, where he was introduced to a Jew who had converted to Catholicism. The Jew understood the meaning of the images which he shared with Flammel.
Nicolas Flammel. Line engraving. (CC BY 4.0 )
The alchemist then came back to Paris where he began to experiment with the transmutation of metals alongside his wife. He had taught her the principles of alchemy in the past and, by following to the letter the instructions from the book, they achieved their first successful transmutation, obtaining gold of a far superior quality than the common one and with a much higher level of purity. Flammel remained very discreet and he kept his success a secret as King Charles the Fifth had ordered the destruction of all alchemy labs. Instead, Flammel’s reaction was to endow various churches and to order a portal with symbolic figures for Saint Jaques la Boucherie, the neighboring church.
The Alchemists that ‘Still Lived’
Paul Lucas, a traveler from the 18th century, declared that he had met some Arabs in the desert and that they had told him that the famous couple of alchemists still lived. In his book, “The History of the French from Different States”, Alexis Monteiln stated how he came across a French intellectual and they talked. The man told him that he had met Nicolas Flammel who was not only alive, but who kept on experimenting in some sort of secret underground facility.
House of Nicolas Flammel ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
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Terra Incognita Perpetua
At the end of the 20th century, Averroes Secundus, a Syrian converted to Christianity, wrote in his book “Terra incognita Perpetua” how he had visited the underground labyrinth facility located in Spain, somewhere beneath the Sierra Morena Plateau. He mentioned that there were many entrances located in the underground levels of the abandoned buildings from the region and in caves and that the system of catacombs was so vast that it reached as far as Castilia, Galicia, Catalunya and Basque Country - stretching over several hundred kilometers.
Hieroglyphic figures of Nicolas Flammel ( Public Domain )
The labyrinth was said to be filled with treasures beyond imagining and it was inhabited by a community of initiates. Their libraries were full of books containing the greatest and most well-guarded secrets of the universe and, everything which was not discovered up to that point was being researched and experimented within their secret laboratories.
Nicolas Flammel in his secret laboratory ( Public Domain )
Averroes Secundus even states that he met the famous Nicolas Flammel in person, alive and well among the other initiates, and that he had talked to him about how he was conducting experiments in order to turn the visible into the invisible. The purpose of this task was to find the ultimate method to protect the hidden world from the greed of outsiders. Of course, the initiates protected their secret facility and they had instituted many rules and procedures in this sense. The protection system had been conceived by a group of initiates led and supervised by Flammel himself. The only way to open the hidden doors was by signaling those below and only one person at a time. Leaving aside the methods of access, entering the system of catacombs is very difficult because, even though accidental access may be possible, accidental exit is impossible.
Featured image: The Alchymist, in Search of the Philosopher's Stone by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1771. ( Public Domain )
By: Valda Roric
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