Briefly Noted: ‘Le Mystère des Cathédrales’
With yesterday’s catastrophic fire at Notre-Dame of Paris, I couldn’t help but think of Victor Hugo’s comment in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831) that “The church of Notre-Dame de Paris is still no doubt, a majestic and sublime edifice. But, beautiful as it has been preserved in growing old, it is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer, without respect for Charlemagne, who laid its first stone, or for Philip Augustus, who laid the last.”
Tourists, Catholics and other Christians, mystics of all faiths, architects, and especially the French nation have used many superlatives to describe the beauty and importance of this cathedral. And yet, the church is more than it seems. It is, as the pseudonymous author Fucanelli wrote in the original version of The Mystery of the Cathedrals, a veritable hermetic textbook in living stone to the alchemical process.
Most people probably view the hermetic symbols as the flourishes of Gothic architecture. However, for students of chemical or spiritual alchemy, the is much to learn from those symbols as well as from The Mystery of the Cathedrals (1926) and its sequel Dwellings of the Philosophers (1929). Modern-day students will find a great deal of help in the work of Carl Jung and others who view alchemy as more than trying to turn lead into gold but as a spiritual/psychological means of becoming wholly one’s divine self.
I have been studying this book since the 1971 English (U.K – Neville Spearman edition) came out and grasp only a fraction of it. As Wikipedia says of the two books, “The books are written in a cryptic and erudite manner, replete with Latin and Greek puns, alchemical symbolism, double entendres, and lectures on and in Argot and Cant, all of which serve to keep casual readers ignorant.”
From the Publisher (The cover shown here comes from a reprint edition.)
In 1926 the fabled alchemist Fulcanelli left his remarkable manuscript concerning the Hermetic Study of Gothic Cathedral Construction with a student. He then disappeared. The book decodes the symbology found upon and within the Gothic Cathedrals of Europe which have openly displayed the secrets of alchemy for 700 years.
From the Book
“The gothic cathedral, that sanctuary of Tradition, Science and Art, should not be regarded as a work dedicated solely to the glory of Christianity, but rather as a vast concretion of ideas, of tendencies, of popular beliefs; a perfect whole, to which we can refer without fear, whenever we would penetrate the religious, secular, philosophic or social thoughts of our ancestors.”
Amazon Reader Review
Seminal work by the mysterious master French alchemist Fulcanelli. Companion to his other book “The Dwellings of the Philosophers.” The author explores in depth secrets contained within the Gothic cathedrals of France. He reveals a number of secrets, providing crucial clues into the occult work of the alchemists, contained in these massive repositories of knowledge preserved in stone. Warning: this is not a work for the uninitiated or those unfamiliar with alchemy. In order to understand this book, one must have at the very least knowledge of Gothic art and architecture as well as an understanding of the rudiments of alchemy. This is necessary in order for Fulcanelli’s work to make any sense to the reader. I would recommend Loius Charpentier’s “Mysteries of Chartres Cathedral” and Tobias Churton’s “The Golden Builders” to familiarize oneself with the subject matter before diving headlong into Fulcanelli’s masterpiece.
I agree with the reviewer’s suggestions about reading several other books first before attempting this one. Also, you’ll find an interesting commentary of Mysteries of the Cathedrals included in Jay Widner and Vincent Bridges book The Mysteries of the Great Cross of Hendaye” Alchemy and the End of Time.
In spite of the difficulties, Mysteries of the Cathedrals is time well spent.