NicolasFlamel was a fifteenth century philanthropist, who had a posthumous reputationas an alchemist (History of Alchemy). In life, Flamel was a successfulscrivener and manuscript-seller in Paris; in death, Flamel became famous aroundthe world for his alchemy (History of Alchemy).
Flamel is called the greatestalchemist in history. This title came about in the 17th century when tales ofhis mastery gained friction; at that time Flamel’s death was about 200 yearsold. The uproar was caused by works published in the 17th century; analchemical book published in Paris in 1612 titled “Livre des figureshiéroglyphiques” (Alchemy Lab). It is said to have Flamel’s search for thephilosophers stone describe in the introduction.
This book is thought to havestarted the initial belief in the immortality Flamel and his wife Perenellegained as they mastered alchemy. Often duplicated in western film culture as afictional wizard or sorcerer, he is mostly known to be the most famousalchemist in history.Formany people around the world, everlasting life or unlimited fortune is theultimate desire. Alchemy combines those two creating a life some would riskeverything for, including their own existence. Achieving immortality and havingaccess to an unlimited amount of riches are only two achievements to alchemy,but those two qualities are what propel many to continue seeking answers andstudying Flamel’s life and success.
Along with immortality and riches,achieving in alchemy gives one wisdom and understanding. Flamel was oftenlooked at as a wise and generous man, known for his astonishing philanthropy,only becoming famous for his studies and supposed achievements in alchemytwo-hundred years after his death. During Flamel’s life the townspeople beganto wonder how a bookseller acquired the riches him and his wife Perenellegained. Once it was realized Flamel studied alchemy, many began attempting toconnect the findings with how he obtain his wealth.
Aswith technology, art was beginning to expand away from linearly thinking. Arebirth phenomenon was in full affect. The Renaissance began at the beginningof the fourteenth century, and although it had been evolving about forty yearsbefore Flamel’s birth it was still in its infancy (History).
Flamel was born intoa time where darkness and rebirth controlled Europe, it is safe to assume hewitnessed much turmoil. The events Flamel seen may have sparked him to want topursue philanthropy. The wealth Flamel had went more toward helping the citizensthan on material things, like gold, castles, and an over abundant amount offood. He shared his property, food, and knowledge with those around him.
Flamelwas born in 1340 and died around 1418, it is safe to assume most of Flamel’sphilanthropy was motivated by the sheer devastation and betrayal France enduredduring his life. Flamel was known as a wealthy man who propagated his richeswithin and around his community in Paris. However, there was an event thataffected Flamel and everyone around him, The One Hundred Year War.
Ultimately”the creation of a dual monarchy, whereby Henry V’s son would be King ofEngland and France” (Robinson) would end the war in 1420, and that is whenpropaganda flooded the streets. Propaganda during this time was in the form ofcoins and street pageants promoted by Henry VI; he wanted to convey duringthese political stunts and propaganda that he was fully capable, wise, andstrong king. “The street pageants were elegant and most of the time costlyaffairs and included such spectacles as pantomime acts, processions andmagnificent costumes” (Robinson). What drove Flamel’s passion for philanthropyand the people is unknown; however, many can agree being witness to conflict,poverty, and death would provoke anyone to want to become more proactive withinhis or her community. Fortunately Flamel was willing and able to help andshelter many due to the money he and his wife, Perenelle, acquired.Thetown and city life were quite the same in a sense, there were many peopleliving in Paris despite the devastating plague killing a third of it.
The citystreets were noisy and full of street merchants who would sell food, clothing,and other essentials. As with many failing empires, Paris was divided into thewealthy, social class, and those who lived in poverty. Becoming familiar withthe world Flamel was living in helps form a clearer picture of his life. Flamelseemed like an empathetic man, doing many things for the sake of someone else.
He and his wife made it their life mission to help the masses in any waypossible; “Initial research into Flamel’s life tells a tale of kindness,philanthropy, and success. Flamel and his wife built homes in Paris where theywould shelter and feed the homeless” (Sciolino). If Flamel had shared the samenotoriety he had after his death, during his life, he may have been able tocontribute much more to his city.Luckilyfor Paris, Flamel and Perenelle gave back extensively using their riches anddid not use their fortune purely for their own needs and wants. That could beanother reason why so many are fascinated with the life of Flamel, althoughphilanthropy of that extent is now common, many did not see such empathy andaction from a common man during his time. It is through Flamel’s action andstudies one becomes engulfed in the mysteries of his life and success inalchemy. Alchemist will always be depicted as sorcerers or wizards due to thefact many believe it is exactly that.
Once definitive proof of such stone andelixir is discovered, perhaps the roles alchemist and their practice will beginto see a change in how they are portrayed to the masses.Thereare many different popular legends surrounding Nicolas Flamel. Flamel isthought to have discovered the Philosopher’s Stone and achieved immortality.There are films, poems, and shows, which reference Flamel’s life and allegedachievements. The most acknowledged depiction of Flamel in pop culture is thefirst book in the J.K. Rowling series HarryPotter. In the book and film, he is a 665 year old alchemist who masterturning items into gold and immortality through the Elixir of Life.
In 2005 thealbum titled Grand Materia by Swedish metal band Morgana Lefay is dedicated tothe life and mastery of Flamel. A couple of years later, across the ocean, anauthor by the name of Michael Scott began a series of six fantasy novelscentered around Nicolas Flamel and Perenelle called, “The Secrets of theImmortal Nicholas Flamel”. This series would later receive numerous literaryaward nominations (The American Library Association). In the famous mangaFullmetal Alchemist, many characters possess the mark of “Flamel”.
“This markis a common theme in Flamel writings; it is a stylization of a crucified snake”(Geni).AlthoughFlamel is often seen in literature and film, his studies are also attributed todoctors and scientist. Hundreds of years after his death he achieve legendarystatus within the circles of alchemy. Isaac Newton reference him in hisjournals to “the Caduceus, the dragon of Flammel” (Geni). In 1930, the poetMichael Roberts wrote “Nicolas Flamel”. One line of the poem eludes to hisalchemy and the elixir of life, stating, “A universal alkahest in yellowcerement, underground” (Poetry Foundation).
“Alkahest is a hypothetical solventhaving the power to dissolve every other substance, including gold”(Enacademic). Psychologist Carl Jung used alchemical symbolism in depth andanalytical psychology. Jung discovered a correlation between alchemical symbolsand dreams, he later called “process of individuation” (Jung).Unfortunately,because of the numerous pop culture references in the new century, the tales ofNicolas Flamel have turn his life into such a simulacrum, many now believeFlamel is a fictional character. The people of France keep his legacy alive bypreserving his house and holding his tombstones incased inside of the Musée deCluny, in Paris.
One of his properties still stand today; “It is the oldeststone house in Paris; downstairs has been transformed into a restaurant calledAubergeNicolas Flamel, while upstairs remains untouched” (Auberge Nicolas Flamel). In,what is believe to be, his hometown of Pontoise is a school named after him CollègeNicolas Flamel. In the fourth arrondissement at the Saint-JacquesTower, Flamel, former patron of the church, is said to be buried under. It isclear Flamel may have lost his legacy to popular culture in some parts of theworld, but France still has kept it alive.Ifit was not for that fateful day Flamel encountered the man who would give himthe book he would end up studying and researching for a quarter of a century,Flamel may have been lost in history.
Flamel lived a noble life, selling booksand helping the poor. Every event leading up to when Flamel first encountered The Book of Abraham the Jew, wasnecessary in the formation of the greatest alchemist in history. There are twostories to how Flamel encountered the book that would inevitably seal hisdestiny. One story claims, around 1378, Flamel traveled to Spain, “On the wayback, he reported that he met a sage, who identified Flamel’s book as being acopy of the original Book of Abraham the Mage” (Geni). Four years later, Flameland Perenelle decoded enough of the book to successfully produce silver andthen gold shortly after (Geni). Another story claims an unknown man in need ofsome money walked into Flamel’s book store with said book.
Flamel was reluctantto purchase the book however he realized the book was a book he seen in hisdreams, he quickly purchased the book and the rest is history (Merton). It isstill unclear how Flamel came across TheBook of Abraham the Jew, whatever the story may be, what matters is Flamel possessedthe book that would make him the most notable alchemist in history.