The House of the Alchemist

  • Europe
  • France
  • Paris
Among the narrow streets of Paris, a house with a unique past stands out.

<p>(by Guilhem Vellut CC BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)</p>

At 49 Rue de Montmorency, you can nowadays observe what is considered to be the oldest house in Paris. The famous alchemist Nicolas Flamel, who went down in history for producing the legendary philosopher’s stone, is said to have lived here.

Nicolas Flamel

Nicolas Flamel

Many people have read and heard about the philosopher’s stone. For centuries, this legendary object has sparked myths and stories about it, even appearing in one of the books of the Harry Potter saga by author J.K. Rowling.

The philosopher’s stone, however, is closely linked to the story of Nicolas Flamel, a character who really existed.

Mr. Flamel was a 14th-century Parisian scribe who, according to tradition, deciphered a particular manuscript during a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela: the Book of Abramelin. Here, he obtained a secret recipe to produce a unique material with supernatural powers.

What was alchemy?

A page from a book on alchemical processes and receipts.

In those days, alchemy was a real subject of study, derived from the Greek word chemia, which refers to the fusion of metals. Many scientists and researchers, devoted themselves to research, study and experimentation in order to obtain new formulas with which to deceive natural laws, so to speak.

Specifically, the creation of alchemy is attributed to the mythical Hellenistic founder Hermes Trismegistus. From the 8th century onwards, the idea that mercury had unique properties, capable of transforming ordinary metals into noble and precious elements such as gold, took shape. Specifically, according to Jabir ibn Hayyan, an 8th-century philosopher, metallic materials were essentially produced by mixing mercury and sulphur underground. The theories of the time hypothesised that gold was produced by combining these in their purest form. Thus, the concept of the philosopher’s stone gradually emerged, something sought after by the contemporaries of the time, who were increasingly dazzled by a veritable thirst for gold.

Over time, alchemy became a subject shrouded in mystery, in which one was often initiated into secret formulas and occult rituals. There were also cases in which characters of the time were able to fool their contemporaries, representing real forgers and charlatans.

The Philosopher's Stone

The Alchymist, In Search of the Philosopher’s Stone

According to myth, the philosopher’s stone was a precious object that could turn other objects into gold, give good luck and achieve immortality. In the context of gold hunting, the rumour of a stone with extraordinary powers caught the attention of many. Several philosophers, naturalists and even scientists devoted themselves to its search. The philosopher’s stone fascinated and fascinated prominent people from Europe and North Africa for many years, but it is said that only Nicolas Flamel succeeded in obtaining it.

Today we look here at his former home, still shrouded by the mysterious figure of its tenant.

House inscriptions detail (by Elterrien, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Last updated on May 12, 2023
More in Paris