The following account was first printed in French in 1612, and the English version which is here transcribed is a translation made in 1624 by someone who took the pseudonym of Eirenaeus Orandus. The spelling and punctuation are somewhat modernized.
Although that I Nicholas Flammel, Notary, and abiding in Paris, in this year one thousand three hundred fourscore and nineteen, and dwelling in my house in the street of Notaries, when skepticism concerning near unto the chapel of St James of the Boucherie; although, I say, that I learned but a little Latine, because of the small means of my parents, which nevertheless were by them that envy me most, accounted honest people; yet by the grace of God, and the intercession of the blessed Saints in Paradise of both sexes, and principally of Saint James of Gallicia, I have not wanted the understanding of the Books of the Philosophers, and in them learned their so hidden secrets. And for this cause there shall never be any moment of my life, when I remember this high good, wherein upon my knees (if the place will give me leave) or otherwise, in my heart with all my affection, I shall not render thanks to this most benign God, which never suffereth the child of the just to beg from door to door, and deceiveth not them which wholly trust in his blessing.
Whilst therefore, I Nicholas Flammmel, Notary, after the decease of my, parents, got my living in our art of writing, by making inventories, dressing accounts, and summing up the expenses of tutors and pupils, there fell into my hands, for the sum of two florins, a gilded book, very old and large. It was not of paper or parchment, as other books be, but was only made of delicate rinds (as it seemed unto me) of tender young trees. <Probably a papyrus?> The cover of it was of brass, well bound, all engraven with letters or strange figures; and for my part, I think they might well be Greek characters, or some such like ancient language. Sure I am that I could not read them, and I know well they 'were not notes nor letters of the Latin, nor of the Gaul, for of them we understand a little. As for that which was within it, the leaves of bark or rind were engraven, and with admirable diligence written, with a point of iron, in fair and neat Latin letters colored.
It contained thrice seven leaves, for so they were counted in the top of the leaves, and always every seventh leaf was without any writing, but instead thereof, upon the first seventh leaf, there was painted a Virgin and serpents swallowing her up; in the second seventh, a Cross whereon a serpent was crucified; and in the last seventh, there were painted deserts or wildernesses in the midst whereof ran many fair fountains, from whence there issued out a number of serpents, which ran up and down here and there. upon the first of the leaves, was written in great capital letters of gold ABRAHAM THE JEW, PRINCE, PRIEST, LEVITE, ASTROLOGER, AND PHILOSOPHER, TO THE NATION OF THE JEWS, BY THE WRATH OF GOD DISPERSED AMONG THE GAULS, SENDETH HEALTH. After this it was filled with great execrations and curses (with this word MARANATHA, which was often repeated there) against every person that should cast his eyes upon it, if he were not Sacrificer or Scribe.
He that sold me this book, knew not what it was worth, no more than I
when I bought it; I believe it had been stolen or taken from the miserable
Jews; or found hid in some part of the ancient place of their abode. Within
the book, in the second leaf, he comforted his Nation counselling them
to fly vices, and above all idolatry, attending with sweet patience the
corning of the Messias, which should vanquish all the Kings of the Earth,
and should reign with his people in glory eternally. Without doubt this
had been some very wise and understanding man. In the third leaf, and
in all the other writings that followed, help his captive nation to pay
their tributes unto the Roman emperors, and to do other things, which
I will not speak of, he taught them in common words the transmutation
First he painted a young man, with wings at his ankles, having in his hand a Caducean rod, writhen about with two Serpents, wherewith he struck upon a helmet which covered his head. He seemed to my small judgement to be the God Mercury of the Pagans. Against him there came running and flying with open wings a great old man, who upon his head had an hourglass fastened, and in his hands a hook (or scythe) like Death, with the which in terrible and furious manner, he would have cut off the feet of Mercury. On the other side of the fourth leaf, he painted a fair flower on the top of a very high mountain, which was sore shaken with the north wind: it had the foot blue, the flowers white and red, the leaves shining like fine gold, and round about it the dragons and griffons of the North made their nests and abode. On the fifth leaf there was a fair Rose tree flowered in the midst of a sweet garden climbing up against a hollow oak, at the foot whereof boiled a fountain of most white water, which ran headlong down into the depths, notwithstanding it first passed among the hands of infinite people which digged in the earth seeking for it, but because they were blind, none of them knew it, except here and there one which considered the weight.
On the last side of the fifth leaf, there was a King with a great falchion, who made to be killed in his presence by some soldiers a great multitude of little infants, whose mothers wept at the feet of the unpitiful soldiers; the blood of which infants was afterwards by other soldiers gathered up, and put in a great vessel, wherein the Sun and Moone came to bathe themselves. And because that this history did represent the more part of that of the Innocents slain by Herod, and that in this book I learned the greatest part of the Art, this was one of the Causes, why I placed in their Churchyard these Hieroglyphic symbols of this secret science. And thus you see that which was in the first five leaves.
I will not represent unto you that which was written in good and intelligible Latin in all the other written leaves, for God would punish me, because I should commit a greater wickedness than he who (as it is said) wished that all the men of the world had but one head that he might cut it off at one blow. Having with me therefore this fair book, I did nothing else day nor night, but study upon it, understanding very well all the operations that it shewed, but not knowing with what matter I should begin, which made me very heavy and solitary, and caused me to fetch many a sigh. My wife, Perrenelle, whom I loved as myself and had lately married, was much astonished at this, comforting me and earnestly demanding, if she could by any means deliver me from this trouble. I could not possibly hold my tongue but told her all, and showed her this fair book, whereof at the same instant that she saw it, she became, as much enamoured as myself, taking extreme pleasure to behold the fair cover, gravings, images and portraits, whereof, notwithstanding she understood as little as I, yet it was a great comfort to me to talk with her, and to entertain myself, what we should do to have the interpretation of them.
In the end I caused to be painted within my lodging, as naturally as I could, all the figures and portraits of the fourth and fifth leaf, which I showed to the greatest clerks in Paris, who understood thereof no more than myself. I told them they were found in a book that taught the philosopher's stone, but the greatest part of them made a mock both of me, and of that blessed stone, excepting one called Master Anselm, which was a Licentiate in Physic, and studied hard in this science. He had a great desire to have seen my book, and there was nothing in the world which he would not have done for a sight of it, but I always told him that I had it not: only I made him a large description of the method.
He told me that the first portrait represented Time, which devoured all; and that according to the number of the six written leaves, there was required the space of six years, to perfect the stone; and then, he said, we must turn the glass and seethe it no more. And when I told him this was not painted, but only to show and teach the first agent (as was said in the book) he answered me, that this decoction for six years' space was, as it were, a second agent, and that certainly the first agent, which was there painted, was that white and heavy water, which without doubt was argent vive (quicksilver), which they could not fix, nor cut off his feet, that is to say, take away his volatility, save by long decoction in the purest blood of young infants, for in that, this quicksilver being joined with gold and silver, was first turned into a herb like that which was there painted, and afterwards by corruption, into serpents; which serpents being then wholly dried, and decocted by fire, were reduced into a powder of gold, which should be the stone.
This was the cause that during the space of one and twenty years, I tried a thousand broileries, yet never with blood, for that was wicked and villainous; for I found in my book that the philosophers called blood, the mineral spirit, which is in the metals, principally in the Sun, Moon, and Mercury, to the assembling whereof, I always tended; yet these interpretations for the most part were more subtle than true. Not seeing therefore in my works the signs, at the time written in my book, I was always to begin again.
In the end having lost all hope of ever understanding those figures, for my last refuge, I made a vow to God, and St. James of Gallicia, to demand the interpretation of them at some Jewish priest, in some synagogue of Spain: whereupon, with the consent of Perrenelle, carrying with me the extract of the pictures, having taken the pilgrim's habit and staffe, in the same fashion as you may see me, without this same arch in the churchyard, in the which I put the hieroglyphical figures, where I have also set against the wall, on the one and the other side a procession, in which are represented by order all the colors of the stone, so as they come and go, with this writing in French:
Moult plaist a Dieu procession
Much pleaseth God procession
which is as it were the beginning of King Hercules his Book, which entreateth of the colors of the stone, entitled Iris or the Rainbow, in these terms, Operis processio multum naturae placet, that is The procession of the work is very pleasant unto Nature: the which I have put there expressly for the great Clerks who shall understand the allusion.
In this same fashion, I say, I put myselfe upon my way and so much I did, that I arrived at Montjoy, and afterwards at Saint James, where with great devotion I accomplished my vow. This done, in Leon at my return I met with a merchant of Boulogne, which made me known to a physician, a Jew by nation, and as then a Christian, dwelling in Leon aforesaid, who was very skilful in sublime sciences, called Master Canches.
As soon as I had shown him the figures of my extract, he being ravished with great astonishment and joy demanded of me incontinently if I could tell him any news of the book, from whence they were drawne? I answered him in Latin (wherein he asked me the question) that I hoped to have some good news of the book, if anybody could decipher unto me the enigmas. All at that instant transported with great ardor and joy, he began to decipher unto me the beginning. But to be short he [being] well content to learn news where this book should be, and I to hear him speak,-and certainly he had heard much discourse of the book, but (as he said) as of a thing which was believed to be utterly lost we resolved of our voyage, and from Leon we passed to Oviedo, and from thence to Sanson, where we put ourselves to Sea to come into France.
Our voyage had been fortunate enough, and already, since we were entered into this kingdom, he had most truly interpreted unto me the greatest parts of my figures, where, even unto the very points and pricks, he found great mysteries, which seemed unto me wonderful. When arriving at Orleans this learned man fell extremely sick, being afflicted with excessive vomitings, which remained still with him of those he had suffered at sea, and he was in such a continuall fear of my forsaking him, that he could imagine nothing like unto it. And although I was always by his side, yet would he incessantly call for me, but in sum he died, at the end of the seventh day of his sickness, by reason whereof I was much grieved, yet as well as I could, I caused him to be buried in the Church of the Holy Cross at Orleans, where he yet resteth; God have his soul, for he died a good Christian. And surely if I be not hindered by death I will give unto that Church some revenue, to cause some Masses to be said for his soul every day.
He that would see the manner of my arrival, and the joy of Perrenelle, let him look upon us two in this city of Paris, upon the door of the Chapel of St. James of the Boucherie, close by the one side of my house, where we arc both painted, myself giving thanks at the feet of St. John, whom she had so often called upon. So it was, that by the grace of God and the intercession of the happy and holy Virgin and the blessed Saints James and John, I knew all that I desired, that is to say, the first principles, yet not their first preparation, which is a thing most difficult, above all the things in the world. But in the end I had that also after long errors of three years, or thereabouts, during which time, I did nothing but study and labor, so as you may see me without this Arch, where I have placed my processions against the two pillars of it, under the feet of St. James and St. John, praying always to God, with my beads in my hand, reading attentively within a book, and weighing the words of the philosophers, and afterwards trying and proving the diverse operations which I imagined to myself, by their only words.
Finally I found that which I desired, which I also soon knew by the strong scent and odor thereof. Having this, I easily accomplished the mastery, for knowing the preparation of the first agents, and after following my book according to the letter I could not have missed it, though I would. Then the first time that I made projection was upon mercury whereof I turned half a pound, or thereabouts, unto pure silver, better than that of the mine, as I myself assayed, and made others assay manv times. This was upon a Monday, the 17th of January, about noon, in my house, Perrenelle only being present, in the year of the restoring of mankind, 1382.
And afterwards, following always my book, from word to word, I made projection of the red stotie upon the like quantity of mercury, in the presence likewise of Perrenelle only, in the same house the five and twentieth day of April following, the same year, about five o'clock in the evening, which I transmuted truely into almost as much pure gold, better assuredly than common gold, more soft and pliable. I may speak it with truth, I have made it three times, with the help of Perrenelle, who understood it as well as I because she helped me with my operations, and without doubt, if she would have enterprised to have done it alone, she had attained the end and perfection thereof. I had indeed enough when I had once done it, but I found exceeding great pleasure and delight in seeing and contemplating the admirable works of nature with the vessels.
To signify unto thee then, how I have done it three times, thou shalt see in this Arch, if thou have any skill to know them, three furnaces, like unto them wh ich serve for our operations. I was afraid for a long time, that Perrenelle could not hide the extreme joy of her felicity, which I measured by my own, and lest she should let fall some word amongst her kindred, of the great treasures which we possessed, for extreme joy takes away the understanding as well as great heaviness, but the goodness of the most great God had not only filled me with this blessing, to give me a wife chaste and sage (for she was moreover not only capable of reason, but also to do all that was reasonable), and more discreet and secret than ordinarily other women are. Above all, she was exceedingly devout, and therefore seeing her self without hope of children, and now well stricken in years she began, as I did, to think of God and to give ourselves to the works of mercy.
At that time when I wrote this Commentary in the year one thousand four hundred and thirteen, in the end of the year, after the decease of my faithful companion which I shall lament all the days of my life, she and I had already founded, and endowed with revenues 14 hospitals in this City of Paris, we had new built from the ground three chapels, we had enriched with great gifts and good rents, seven churches, with many reparations in their churchyards, besides that which we have done at Boulogne, which is not much less than we have done here. I will not speak of the good which both of us have done to particular poor folks, principally to widows and poor orphans whose names if I should tell and how I did it, besides that my reward should be given me in this world, I should likewise do displeasure to those good persons, whom I pray God blesse, which I would not do for anything in the world.
Building therefore these churches, churchyards, and hospitals in this City, I resolved myself to cause to be painted in the fourth Arch of the Churchyard of the Innocents, as you enter in by the great gate in St. Dennis Street and taking the way on the right hand, the most true and essential marks of the Art, yet under veils and hieroglyphical covertures, in imitation of those which are in the gilded book of Abraham the Jew, which may represent two things, according to the understanding and capacity of them that behold them.
First, the mysteries of our future and undoubted Resurrection, at the day of Judgement and coming of good Jesus (whom may it please to have mercy upon us) a history which is well agreeing to a churchyard. And secondly they may signify to them which are skilled in Natural Philosophy, all the principal and necessary operations of the mastery. These hieroglyphic figures shall serve as two ways to lead into the heavenly life; the first and most open sense teaching the sacred mysteries of our salvation; (as I will show hereafter) the other teaching every man that hath any small understanding in the stone, the linear way of the work, which being perfected by any one, the change of evil into good, takes away from him the root of all sin (which is covetousness) making him likeable, gentle, pious, religious, and fearing God, how evil soever he was before. For from thenceforward he is continually ravished with the great grace and mercy which he hath obtained from God, and with the profoundness of his Divine and admirable works.
These are the reasons that have moved me to set these forms in this fashion, and in this place, which is a churchyard, to the end that if any man obtains this inestimable good to conquer this rich golden fleece, he may think with himself (as I did) not to keep the talent of God digged in the earth, buying lands and possessions which are the vanities of this world, but rather to work charitably towards his brethren, remembering himself that he learned this secret among the bones of the dead, in whose number he shall shortly be found and that after this life he must render an account, before a just and redoubtable Judge, which will censure even to an idle and vain word.
Let him therefore, which having well weighed my words, and well known and understood my figures, hath first gotten elsewhere the knowledge of the first beginnings and agents (for certainly in these figures and commentaries, he shall not find information thereof) perfect to the glory of God any step or the mastery of Hermes, remembering himself of the Church Catholic Apostolic and Roman; and of all other churches, churchyards and hospitals, and above all the Church of the Innocents in this City (in the churchyard whereof he shall have contemplated these true demonstrations), opening bounteoust his purse to them that are secretly poor honest people, desolate weak women, widows and forlorn orphans. So be it.