From the book: The Mystery of the Cathedrals by Fulcanelli


Nature does not open the door of the sanctuary indiscriminately to everyone.
No one may aspire to possess the great secret, if he does not direct his life in accordance with the researches he has undertaken.
It is not enough to be studious, active and persevering, if one has no firm principles, no solid basis, if immoderate enthusiasm blinds one to reason, if pride overrules judgment, if greed expands before the prospect of a golden future.
The mysterious science requires great precision, accuracy and perspicacity in observing the facts, a healthy, logical and reflective mind, a lively but not over-excitable imagination, a warm and pure heart. It also demands the greatest simplicity and complete indifference with regard to theories, systems and hypotheses, which are generally accepted without question on the testimony of books or the reputation of their authors. It requires its candidates to learn to think more with their own brains and less with those of others. Finally, it insists that they should check the truth of its principles, the knowledge of its doctrine and the practice of its operations from nature, the mother of us all.
By constant exercise of the faculties of observation and reasoning and by meditation, the novice will climb the steps leading to


A simple imitation of natural processes, skill combined with ingenuity, the insight bom of long experience will secure for him the


Having obtained that, he will still have need of patience, constancy and unshakeable will. Brave and resolute, he will be enabled by the certainty and confidence born of a strong faith to


Finally, when success has crowned so many years of labour, when his desires have been accomplished, the Wise Man, despising the vanities of the world, will draw near to the humble, the disinherited, to all those who work, suffer, struggle and weep here below. As an anonymous and dumb disciple of eternal Nature, an apostle of eternal Charity, he will remain faithful to his vow of silence. In Science, in Goodness, the Adept must evermore


Notre Dame

The Cathedral of Paris, like most French cathedrals, is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary or the Virgin Mother. The common people of France call these churches Notre-Dames. In Sicily, they have the even more expressive name of the Matrices. Thus there are many temples dedicated to the Mother (Lat. mater, matris), to the Matrona in the primitive sense, a word which has been corrupted into Madonna (Ital. ma donna), my Lady, and, by extension, Our Lady (Notre-Dame).
Let us pass die railing of the porch and begin our study of die facade with the great portal, called die Central Porch, or Porch of Judgment.
The pier, which divides the entrance bay, shows a series of allegorical representations of the medieval sciences. In the place of honour, facing the parvis, alchemy is represented by a woman, with her head touching the clouds. Seated on a throne, she holds in her left hand a sceptre, the sign of royal power, while her right hand supports two books, one closed (esotericism), the other open (exotericism).
Supported between her knees and leaning against her chest, is the ladder with nine rungs — scala philosophorum — hieroglyph of the patience which the faithful must possess in the course of the nine successive operations of the hermetic labour. 'Patience is the Philosophers' ladder,' Valois tells us, 'and humility is the door to their garden; for whosoever will persevere without pride and without envy, on him God will show mercy.'

Bas-relief on Cathedral Notre Dame - Paris

That is the title of the philosophical chapter of this Mutus Liber, the gothic cathedral; the frontispiece of this occult Bible, with its massive pages of stone; the imprint, the seal of the secular Great Work on the very face of the Christian Great Work. It could not be better situated than on the very threshold of the main entrance. Thus the cathedral appears to be based on alchemical science, on the science which investigates the transformations of the original substance, elementary matter (Lat. materea, root mater mother). For the Virgin Mother, stripped of her symbolical veil, is none other than the personification of the primitive substance, used by the Principle, the creator of all that is, for the furtherance of his designs. This is the meaning (and, indeed, a very clear one) of this strange epithet, which we read in the Mass of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, of which the text reads; 'The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his ways. I existed before he formed any creature. I existed from all eternity, before the earth was created. The abysses were not yet and already I was conceived. The fountains had not yet come out of the earth; the heavy mass of the mountains had not yet been formed; I was begotten before the hills. He had created neither the earth, nor the rivers, nor strengthened the world on its poles. When he prepared the heavens, I was present; when he confined the abysses within their bounds and prescribed an inviolable law; when he confirmed the air above the earth; when he balanced the waters of the fountains; when he shut up the sea within its limits and imposed a law on the waters, so that they should not pass their bounds; when he laid the foundations of the earth, / was with him and I regulated all things.
Obviously what is dealt with here is the very essence of things. Indeed, the Litanies tell us that the Virgin is the Vase containing the Spirit of things: vas spirituale. 'On a table, breast high to the Magi,' Etteila tells us, 'were on one side a book or a series of golden pages or plates (the book of Thoth) and on the other side a vase full of celestial-astral liquid, consisting of one part of wild honey, one part of terrestial water and a third part of celestial water. . . . The secret, the mystery was therefore in this vase.'
This singular virgin—virgo singularis as the Church expressly calls her—is, in addition, glorified under names which denote clearly enough her positive origin. Is she not also called the Palm tree of Patience (Palma patientiae) the Lily among the thorns. (Lilium inter spinas); Sampson's symbolic Honey, Gideon's Fleece; the mystic Rose; the Gateway to Heaven; the House of Gold, etc. The same texts also call Mary the Seat of Wisdom, in other words the subject of the hermetic science of universal wisdom. In the symbolism of planetary metals, she is the Moon, who receives the rays of the Sun and keeps them secretly in her breast. She is the dispenser of the passive substance, which the solar spirit comes to animate. Mary, Virgin and Mother, then, represents form; Elias, the Sun, God the Father, is the emblem of the vital spirit.
From the union of these two principles living matter results, subject to the vicissitudes of the laws of mutation and progression. Thus is Jesus, the incarnate spirit, fire, incorporated in things here below:
On the other hand, the Bible tells us that Mary, mother of Jesus, was of the stem of Jesse. Now, the Hebrew word Jes means fire, the Sun Divinity. To be of the stem of Jesse is thus to be of the race of the sun, of fire. Since matter derives from the solar fire, as we have just seen, the very name of Jesus appears to us in its original and celestial splendour: fire, sun, God.
Finally, in the Ave Regina, the Virgin is properly called root {salve radix) to show that she is the principle and the beginning of all things.
'Hail, root by which the Light has shone on the world.'

The Alchemist

These are the reflections suggested by the expressive bas-relief, which greets the visitor under the porch of the basilica. Hermetic philosophy, the ancient spagyric art, welcomes him to the gothic church, the alchemical temple par excellence. For the whole cathedral is just a silent witness in images to the ancient science of Hermes, and it has even managed to preserve one of its ancient craftsmen. Notre Dame has indeed kept its alchemist.

Alchemist of Notre Dame

If, moved by curiosity or simply wishing to give some purpose to a summer stroll, you climb the spiral staircase leading to the high parts of the building, you should make you way slowly along the path, hollowed out like a channel at the top of the second gallery. Once you are in the vicinity of the main axis of die majestic building, at the re-entrant angle of die North Tower, you will see in the middle of the procession of monsters, a large and striking stone relief of an old man. This is he — the alchemist of Notre Dame.
Wearing a Phrygian cap, attribute of the Adept, negligently placed on his long, thickly curling hair, the scholar, dressed in his working cape, is leaning with one hand on the balustrade and stroking his full, silky beard with the other. He is not meditating, he is observing.
His eye is fixed; his look is strangely acute. The philosopher's whole attitude suggests extreme emotion. The slope of his shoulders, the forward thrust of his head and chest, betray, indeed, the greatest surprise. Surely that hand of stone is coming to life. Is it illusion? You would think you saw it trembling. . . .
What a splendid figure he is, this old master! Anxiously and attentively he is scrutinizing and enquiring into the evolution of mineral life and finally he contemplates in amazement the prodigy, which his faith alone has let him perceive. And how poor are the modem statues of our learned men—-whether thew are cast in bronze or sculpted in marble—set beside this venerable figure, so simple, yet so powerfully realistic.