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Auberge Nicolas Flamel, oldest restaurant in Paris
Image by Chris Devers
Nicolas Flamel showed up in the first Harry Potter book. JK Rowling seemed to want to base the series at least partially in reality. (Apparently, Flamel also showed up in The Da Vinci Code too, but somehow I missed that reference.)
Interestingly, more recent photos show that the facade has changed significantly since we were there in December 2003: by May 2006 renovations had begun, and by September 2009, in addition to the stonework being cleaned up, the gothic “Auberge Nicolas Flamel” inscription over the ground floor has been removed, as has the lamp and red sign, and it looks like the doors & windows have been replaced.
Obligatory WIkipedia writeup follows:
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Nicolas Flamel (French pronunciation: [nikɔlɑ flaˈmɛl]) (early 1330-1418 or 2009, as some say) was a successful French scrivener and manuscript-seller who developed a posthumous reputation as an alchemist due to his reputed work on the philosopher’s stone.
According to the introduction to his work and additional details that have accrued since its publication, Flamel was the most accomplished of the European alchemists, and had learned his art from a Jewish converso on the road to Santiago de Compostela. “Others thought Flamel was the creation of 17th-century editors and publishers desperate to produce modern printed editions of supposedly ancient alchemical treatises then circulating in manuscript for an avid reading public,” Deborah Harkness put it succinctly. The modern assertion that many references to him or his writings appear in alchemical texts of the 1500s, however, has not been linked to any particular source. The essence of his reputation is that he succeeded at the two magical goals of alchemy — that he made the Philosophers’ Stone, found on page 14 of the Book of Abraham the Mage, which turns lead into gold, and that he and his wife Perenelle achieved immortality through the “Elixer of Life” found on Page 7 of the Book of Abraham the Mage.
Nicolas and his wife, Perenelle were devout Roman Catholics. Later in life they were noted for their wealth and philanthropy as well as multiple interpretations on modern day alchemy.
An alchemical book, published in Paris in 1612 as Livre des figures hiéroglypiques and in London in 1624 as Exposition of the Hieroglyphicall Figures was attributed to Flamel. It is a collection of designs purportedly commissioned by Flamel for a tympanum at the Cimetière des Innocents in Paris, long disappeared at the time the work was published. In the publisher’s introduction Flamel’s search for the philosopher’s stone was described. According to that introduction, Flamel had made it his life’s work to understand the text of a mysterious 21-page book he had purchased. The introduction claims that, around 1378, he travelled to Spain for assistance with translation. On the way back, he reported that he met a sage, who identified Flamel’s book as being a copy of the original Book of Abraham the Mage. With this knowledge, over the next few years, Flamel and his wife allegedly decoded enough of the book to successfully replicate its recipe for the Philosopher’s Stone, producing first silver in 1382, and then gold.
Flamel lived into his 80s, and in 1410 designed his own tombstone, which was carved with arcane alchemical signs and symbols. Some believe that he died shortly after the tombstone was created. Later, according to popular culture, a local criminal (possibly a tomb robber) who wished to acquire Flamel’s reputed gold went to Flamel’s residence. Finding nothing, but undeterred, he was said then to have gone to the gravesite with only a spade and a lantern, and dug up the grave. Upon opening the coffin, he was disappointed to find an absence of gold, but shocked to find no trace of the corpse of Nicolas Flamel. Some claim that it was just the grave of the wrong person who was not dead at the time, while others claim that he faked his own death, citing as evidence the fact that long after 1410 several books were published in his name. The tombstone is preserved at the Musée de Cluny in Paris.
Expanded accounts of his life are legendary. In addition to the mysterious book of 21 pages filled with encoded alchemical symbols and arcane writing, he may also have studied some texts in Hebrew. Interest in Flamel revived in the 19th century, and Victor Hugo mentioned him in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Eric Satie was intrigued by Flamel. Flamel is often referred to in late twentieth-century fictional works such as the Harry Potter and The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel books and movies as well as The Da Vinci Code.
Flamel’s death was recorded in 1418, but his tomb is empty. Rumors spread that Nicolas Flamel never actually died and is still alive today, since people have claimed to have seen him and his wife roaming around Paris; Witnesses claimed to have seen him in 1761 at an opera in Paris.
Flamel’s house, where he lived with his wife Perenelle Flamel, an alchemist in her own right, still stands in Paris, at 51 rue de Montmorency, and is the oldest house in the city. The ground floor currently contains a restaurant. A Paris road near the Louvre Museum, the rue Nicolas Flamel, has been named for him; it intersects with the rue Perenelle, named for his wife.
In popular culture
• The plot of Shadow of Destiny for the PS2 follows that of the story of Nicholas Flamel. In that game, an alchemist becomes obsessed with finding the philosopher’s stone after his wife dies of an illness. The game features multiple endings, one of which allows the alchemist to save his wife by forming the Elixir of Life from the philosopher’s stone, while others involve him obtaining eternal youth for himself.
• Nicolas Flamel’s story is alluded to in J. K. Rowling‘s first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone(1997), in which he is something of a MacGuffin; though he is the clue to the whole mystery of the book, he never actually makes an appearance. He was friends with Albus Dumbledore and is said to have lived for six-hundred and sixty-five years until the Philosopher’s Stone was destroyed following the events of the book.
• Flamel has been alleged to be the eighth Grand Master of the Priory of Sion (1398-1418) as part of a 1960s intrigue where his name was planted in the French National Library in the Dossiers Secrets. This resulted in him being mentioned in the 1982 pseudohistory book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Umberto Eco‘s 1988 novel Foucault’s Pendulum, and Dan Brown‘s 2003 novel, The Da Vinci Code. Many of the names of “Grand Masters" were evidently chosen for some sort of connection with alchemy.
• Nicolas and his wife Perenelle Flamel are important characters mentioned in the Indiana Jones story Indiana Jones and the Philosopher’s Stone by Max McCoy (1995), and an elderly couple named “Nicolas and Pernelle” save Indy during one scene, before professing to have followed Jones’s career closely.
• Nicolas and his wife are central characters in Michael Scott‘s seriesThe Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, The Magician: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, The Sorceress: The Secrets Of The Immortal Nicholas Flamel ,and “The Necromancer: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel" . Also the book of Abraham the Mage is a focus in the series, called The Codex.
• He is the subject of Michael Roberts‘ poem “Nicholas Flamel”, collected in These Our Matins (1930).
• Nicolas Flamel is also a character in the 1999 novel “The Burning Road” by Ann Benson. The Book of Abraham also plays a significant role in the novel.
• Flamel is mentioned as possessing the Book of Abraham in Dennis Wheatley’s novel about black magic, “The Devil Rides Out”.
• Flamel, Paracelsus, and Raymond Lull are described as “the magicians and alchemists of the Middle Ages” (62) in the 1885 sci-fi classic Tomorrow’s Eve by Villiers de l’Isle-Adam (trans. Robert Martin Adams; University of Illinois Press, 1982).
• In the book series The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott, he is one of the main characters, and so is his wife, Perenelle.
1. ^ Harkness, review of Dixon 1994 in Isis 89.1 (1998) p. 132.
2. ^ Laurinda Dixon, ed., Nicolas Flamel, his Exposition of the Hieroglyphicall Figures (1624) (New York: Garland) 1994.
3. ^ Wilkins 1993.
• Decoding the Past: The Real Sorcerer’s Stone, November 15, 2006 History Channel video documentary
• Creations of Fire, Cathy Cobb & Harold Goldwhite, 2002, ISBN 0-7382-0594-X
• The Alchemyst: The Secrets of The Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Michael Scott, 2007, ISBN 9780739350324
• Parashpathor(Philosopher’s Stone) : A Bengali fiction by Adrish Bardhan,2008
• The Magician: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Michael Scott, 2008
• The Sorceress: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Micheal Scott, 2009
• Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone JK Rowling,1997
• Reginald Merton, “A Detailed Biography of Nicolas Flamel” Highly detailed legend.
• The Alchemy Web Site, “The Hieroglyphic Figures” Contains some of Flamel’s writings
Paris, Hotel Bel-Ami
Image by Terretta