This didn’t have quite the effect she’d expected.
“The what?” said Harry and Ron.
“Oh, honestly, don’t you read? Look – read that, there.”
“The ancient study of Alchemy is concerned with making the Sorcerer’s Stone, a legendary substance with astonishing powers. The stone will transform any metal into pure gold. It also produces the Elixir of Life, which will make the drinker immortal.”
There have also been many reports of the Sorcerer’s Stone over the centuries, but the only stone currently in existence belongs to Mr. Nicolas Flamel, who celebrated his six hundredth and sixty-fifth birthday last year, enjoys a quiet life in Devon with his wife, Perenelle (six hundred and fifty-eight).”
(Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. pp 219-220. J.K. Rowling. Scholastic, Inc. 1997)As recently as 1311 Pope Clement V had declared that charging interest on a loan was heresy for a Christian, and punishable by death at the stake. It was the function of Jews in medieval Europe to be the money lenders, and they were restricted from doing any other business with gentiles, leaving ambitious Jews little choice but to go into banking or money lending. The only problem was that every time the French nobility found their debts piling up they simply expelled the Jews and seized their property, as did the misnamed “Phillip the Fair” in 1306, Charles VI did again in 1394.
In between these persecutions the crown re-admitted the Jews because even medieval economies could not function without bankers. But the persecutions could break out again at anytime, with the slaughter of innocents, whose only crime was that they prayed to God on a different day of the week and in a different tongue than the King, and that they made a profit by doing something the Christian church disapproved of, at least publicly.
“I, Nicholas Flamel, a scrivener of Paris, in the year 1414, in the reign of our gracious Prince Charles the VIth, whom God preserve; and after the death of my faithful partner Perenelle, am seized with a desire and a delight, in remembrance of her, and in your behalf, dear nephew, to write out the whole majesty of the secret of the Powder of Projection, or the Philosophical Tincture,…”. The Testament of Nicolas Flamel
The testament continues for some 3,000 words, and not one word of it was actually written by Nicolas Flamel. He had no brother that we know of, so he had no nephew. And modern researchers have noticed in the testament the use of words and phrases that were not in use in 14th or 15th century France.The first the testament was ever heard of was in 18th century France, when it probably written and sold for a tidy profit to those who was wanted to believe they were buying the secret of unlimited wealth. There are always such people about, ask any Wall Street guru.Nicolas’ entry into banking was natural. When writing a letter for a merchant demanding payment of a debt, he would offer to forgo his usual fee in exchange for a percentage of the repayment. If the debt were not repaid Nicolas would not be paid. But by insisting in the letter that any payment be sent to him rather than directly to the merchant, Nicolas insured that his percentage – often upwards of 50% - was paid before the merchant recieved a sou. It was easy to keep this secret since the merchant was a co-conspirator and equally as guilty as Nicolas, in the eyes of the church.
As the profits began to roll in Nicolas was able to rent space for a stall that rested against the very columns of the front of la Boucherue. Now he had a roof over his head and some privacy when he did business: profits increased. And Nicolas was able to offer direct loans to tide customers over while waiting for their debts to be paid; more profit. In time Nicolas could afford a home, and eventually, a wife.“It is certain that he had been seen often walking along the Rue des Lombards, and furtively entering a small house at the corner of the Rue des Ecrivains and the Rue de Marivault. It was the house built by Nicolas Flamel, in which he died about 1407, and which, unoccupied ever since, was beginning to fall into ruins, so greatly had the hermetics and alchemists of all countries worn away its walls merely by scratching their names upon them…It was supposed that Flamel had buried the philosophers stone in these cellars, and for two centuries alchemists from Magistri to Father Pacificque, never ceased to worry the soil, until the house, so mercilessly ransacked and turned inside out ended up crumbling into dust under their feet.”
The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Page 134. Victor Hugo. Carey, Lea and Blanchard. 1834.About 1370 Nicolas married a widow, Perenelle. They lived frugally in a modest house on the Rue des Escrivains, in order not to attract attention to Nicolas' business - call it the Silas Marner syndrome. They had no children. In 1407 Nicolas built a shop at 51 rue de Montmorency (above,now a restaurant) where he employed other scribes and artists to create illuminated manuscripts. The most promimently dispalyed, no doubt, were the copies of ancient texts of alchemy. On the second and third floors of the house (now the oldest still standing house in Paris) Nicolas sheltered the poor, as he did in several other houses he owned and built in Paris.
And if Nicolas were not a money lender and a secret banker, where did all that wealth come from? Is it easier to believe he turned lead into gold and discovered something which still eludes science, or that he knew how to add and subtract and figure the percentages of interest rates? Even a trip Nicolas made to Spain to collect debts, and the visits Jews and nobility made to his shop after dark, were all protected by the legends of alchemy and magic which swirled around him. And this "cover story" was embellished by the scattering of mystical texts about his shop. It was far safer in medieval France to be rumored a magician than to be known as a banker.‘True, Sir. The two favorite studies of my youth were botany and mineralogy, …I have regretted I were not a man that I might have been a Flamel, a Fontana or Cabanas”
Page 523. The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas. Oxford World Classics. 1846 During his lifetime Nicolas endowed large sums to la Boucherue cathedral, and endowed seven churches, fourteen hospitals and three chapels; the church was no more likely to ask questions about the source of that income than a modern politician.
Perenelle died sometime around 1410. Nicolas himself died in 1418. They were both buried in the cemetery “…of the innocents” in Paris. Nicolas left his substantial fortune to the Catholic Church, which put his name and image on the hospitals and churches they built with his money. And that is how his name has survived, and why the mystery of his wealth has suvived for 500 years as well.
In his lifetime Nicolas Flamel was a money lender and a banker. But in his lifetime that was a crime. After he was dead he became a fabulous alchemist and a wizard to rival Merlin, finder of the mystical and illogical "Socerers' Stone" - but only after he was dead, when it was safe.
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