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In Harry Potter the alchemist Nicolas Flamel produced a magical elixir to turn metal into gold and give immortality. The real Flamel lived in the 14th Century , but did he really take on the ‘Great Work’ (Magnum Opus)?
#1 Flamel is said to have achieved the twin goals of alchemy: turned base metals into gold, and to have become immortal.
#2 This claim was made in a curious book titled Livre des Figures Hiéroglyphiques. The introduction detailed Flamel’s long and ultimately successful quest for the Philosopher’s Stone. It claimed that one day in his Paris bookshop a man had approached him with a manuscript. It had an incredibly old looking copper binding, strange diagrams and writing, and the mysterious word maranatha written on 21 pages.
#3 He bought it but was unable to translate it. In 1378 he took a long and difficult journey along the pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. On his way back, he met a sage who helped him to decode many alchemical secrets. Back in Paris he produced the Philosopher’s Stone and turned mercury into silver, then gold.
#4 The scientific genius Issaac Newton also wanted to find the Philosopher’s Stone and conducted occult investigations. He believed that Flamel was real and had a copy of the notorious book. He made reference in his journals to “the Dragons of Flamel.”
#5 In the reign of Louis XIII, an alleged descendant of Flamel named Dubois, was claimed to have used the philosopher’s powder to change lead into gold. But he did not know how to make it. As a result, when it was used up, he found himself in prison.
#6 Hundreds of years later some claimed that Flamel was still alive and had cheated death with his elixir of life. In his account from 1714 Paul Lucas claimed that Flamel was living in India. Many believed it.
#7 Some did not. In 1761 Etienne Villain claimed that the publisher of the book P. Arnauld de la Chevalerie had actually written it, and simply used Flamel’s name to add historical validity.
#8 Flamel did indeed exist, and like many men of his time he may well have studied the art of transmutation. But there is no proof he found the stone. He died in 1418.
#9 But Flamel fever had taken hold. In ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, Victor Hugo described the belief that the Philosophers Stone lay hidden under Flamel’s house or his tomb, in Saint-Innocents cemetery. As a result so many alchemists came to dig in search of it, that they house allegedly fell to dust beneath their feet. As well as featuring in Harry Potter, Flamel also appears in Foucault’s Pendulum and The Da Vinci Code.