Last updated on February 13th, 2021

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Nicolas Flamel and the Philosopher’s Stone

By Tracy R. Twyman

Nicolas Flamel was the first figure on the Priory of Sion’s list of Grand Masters who is not known to have had royal blood. He was the owner of a small Parisian bookshop who became one of the 15th century’s most renowned alchemists. Flamel was intrigued by the concept of alchemy, and longed to get his hands on the fabled Sacred Book of Abraham the Jew, Prince, Priest and Levite to that Tribe of Jews Who by the Wrath of God were Dispersed Amongst the Gauls – a book which purported to disclose the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone. One night he dreamt that an angel came to him and bequeathed him this book, with the promise that he would “see in it that which no man will be able to see.” Shortly afterwards, a cash-strapped student walked into his shop and offered to sell him a copy of the very book in question. Flamel, of course, snapped it up right away.

At first he did not know what to make of it. Bound in copper plating and covered inside and out with symbols completely foreign to this advanced master of the occult, it proved, at first, indecipherable. It remained so for the next twenty-one years, torturing the aging bookseller, until he finally resolved to seek out a Jew conversant in the Cabala who would be capable of reading it. Jews had been expelled from France at that point, so he went to Spain, then a safety zone for both Jewish and Muslim esotericists, under the guise that he was taking a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Saint James of Compostela – purported burial place of Christ’s brother James. He found no help there, but on the way back, he met a Jewish Cabalist named Maestro Canches, who was able to elucidate for him the key to the book’s code. Flamel had not brought the entire book, however, but only a few pages, and agreed to bring the old Jew back with him so that they could decode the rest of the book. Flamel even had him converted to Christianity so that he would not technically be guilty of smuggling a Jew into France. Unfortunately, Maestro Canches died on the trip to Paris. But he had given Flamel the information he needed to be able to decode the rest of the book, and on January 17th, a date very important to the Priory of Sion. Flamel is said to have transmuted mercury into gold with the use of the Philosopher’s Stone.

From that moment on, Flamel lived a comfortable, but not extravagant lifestyle, well beyond the means of most small bookshop owners, obviously having discovered in the Philosopher’s Stone the source of perpetual wealth. He and his wife Pernelle opened a new store and founded a number of churches and hospitals, which they decorated with strange, occult symbols derived from The Book of Abraham the Jew. He spent the remainder of his life writing treatises on alchemy. But it was only to his wife and his nephew Perrier that he left his testament revealing the secret of the Philosopher’s Stone, and then only after his purported death at age 80, in 1418. He was buried at Saint Jacques la Boucherie, where his bookshop was located. On his tombstone were carved a sun, a key, and a closed book. These, along with the other alchemical symbols represented on his various properties, were removed over time by treasure hunters, who attacked his grave and former domains searching for his secrets. One of these persons was said to have found, beneath the foundations of Saint Jacques la Boucherie, vials full of red “projection powder.”

As the generations passed, one of the descendants of Flamel’s nephew, “Dubois”, came into possession of the projection powder, an used it in a magic show he put on for King Louis XIII in which lead balls were changed into gold. Immediately afterwards he was interrogated by Cardinal Richelieu, who was trying to wrench from him the secret of alchemy. All this resulted in was Richelieu’s frustration and Dubois’ execution, whereupon Richelieu seized all of his property, as well as that of his illustrious ancestor. Richelieu had Flamel’s houses turned inside out in search of secrets and treasure, even opening the man’s coffin – which, according to rumor, was found empty. (Indeed, “Flamel sightings” occurred numerous times throughout the centuries following his death.) Richelieu successfully got his hands on The Book of Abraham the Jew, and built an alchemical laboratory in which he tried out various experiments. But he was unable to fully interpret the book, and failed to transmute anything. After that most of the text of The Book of Abraham the Jew became lost, leaving only the diagrams, which have been published numerous times since.

What is there to indicate that Nicolas Flamel was in fact a member of the Priory of Sion? Well, for one thing, the manner in which he just happened to come across The Book of Abraham the Jew, which he had been searching for his entire life, and then just happened to run across the right man to help him interpret it, is indicative of the involvement of a secret society, rather like the way in which Berenger Sauniere came across the parchments, and then had them interpreted at Saint Sulpice, after which he, like Flamel, became inexplicably wealthy. Then there’s the title of the book itself, The Book of Abraham the Jew, Prince, Priest and Levite to that Tribe of Jews Who by the Wrath of God Were Dispersed Amongst the Gauls. This indicates a Prince of a Jewish tribe that became dispersed in Gaul, now France. Jesus supposedly fled to Gaul after the crucifixion partially because there already existed a large Jewish and semi-Jewish population in that region, perhaps the remnants of one of Israel’s lost tribes. Then there is the fact that Flamel learned the book’s secret on a pilgrimage to Saint James of Compostela. More interesting is that fact that the pilgrim route to Saint James of Compostela passes very near Rennes-le-Chateau. Then, of course, there’s the date of the first presumed alchemical transmutation, January 17th, the date of Berenger Sauniere’s stroke, Marie de Blanchefort’s death, and the Feast Day of Saint Sulpice. Then there’s the absolute secrecy with which he guarded the key to the Philosopher’s Stone, only divulging it to family – his wife and his nephew. And finally, there are the actions of Cardinal Richelieu, indicating that he knew for a fact that Flamel was in the possession of a real secret.

Interestingly, Cardinal Richelieu is discussed extensively in Holy Blood, Holy Grail. During the 1600s, he constituted the real power behind Louis XIII’s throne. And in 1633, out of a desire to wrench Southern France from the influence of Spain and Austria, he brought France into the Thirty Years War against those two nations, who represented the Catholic side of the conflict, in favor of the Protestant armies of Sweden and Germany, whose leader, Elector Frederick, Palatinate of the Rhine, was strongly supported by the Rosicrucian thinkers of the time. This is a strange position for a Catholic Cardinal to take, and the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail indicate that Richelieu may have been a Rosicrucian himself – which, you’ll recall, would mean that he was connected with the Priory of Sion. Perhaps when Richelieu raided Flamel’s domains, he was just acting as an agent of the Priory, attempting to repossess property that was rightfully theirs. Or perhaps he was a double-agent.