Wednesday, Jul. 15, 2009

Nicolas Flamel

For Harry Potter fans, the name Nicolas Flamel may sound familiar. J.K. Rowling wove the medieval alchemist into the first book in her series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (the U.K. title), but the man described as the owner of the only known Philosopher's Stone is no fictional character.

During his life, Flamel was a scholar and scribe. After his death, he became known as the alchemist behind the Philosopher's Stone. According to legend, an angel appeared to Flamel in a dream and told him of a magical book he would happen upon — which he did shortly thereafter. Flamel and his wife spent the rest of their lives trying to decode it, traveling as far as Spain to find Jewish scholars versed in Kabbalah to help in the translation. The tome was believed to hold the secret to the Philosopher's Stone and the Elixir of Life, and in 1382 Flamel wrote in his diary that he had found the secret to transform lead into gold. That feat may seem unlikely, but historical records show that Flamel became very wealthy after this date and donated almost all of his money to charity.

Flamel reportedly died in 1418, soon after designing his own tombstone. Many could not believe that the man who had discovered the Elixir of Life had passed away, and there are those — moved by the alleged discovery of his empty coffin — who believe he is still around today. Several witnesses have claimed to catch a glimpse of Flamel since his passing, including a noted "sighting" at the Paris Opera in 1761.