To Harry Potter fans, the name Nicholas Flamel is a wizard who appears in the first book of the series. However, Nicholas Flamel was not just a fictional character. He was a medieval alchemist, who was reported to have discovered the Philosopher’s Stone. This stone was a magical object said to turn base metals into gold and create the Elixir of Life, which granted the drinker immortality.
However, as with many figures from the medieval time period, many of the details are shrouded in mystery. What we do know is Nicholas Flamel was born around 1330 in probably Pontoise, France. From there he moved to Paris and became a scribe, running two book shops. He married a wealthy widow, Perenelle, and they became well known for their philanthropy and charitable works. He reportedly lived eighty years and died in 1418. He designed his own tombstone, which is located in the Musée de Cluny.
Here is where history departs into legend. In the seventeenth century books began coming out with rumors of Flamel’s discovery of the Philosopher’s Stone. One legend said he received mystical information in a dream from an angel about a magical book he would receive. Then he traveled to Spain to study with Jewish mystics. Another story said he received the information from a Jewish converso on the road to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela.
Many people believe the famed alchemist is still alive and reports that the coffin under his tombstone was empty fueled these rumors. There was supposedly a sighting of Nicholas and Perenelle in 1761 at the Paris Opera. No one can be sure of that, but his fame lives on as his legend was passed down to the next generation.