When you wished to write a nice N and F in 1407, it would look like this. These letters can be read on what is stated to be the oldest house of living in Paris (forgetting about some churches, walls, monuments…). The proof is to be found on the building itself, included in a text we can be read on the front. I will revert to this below. I already posted about this house on my old blog, but here is a closer look.
The house is referred to as the house of Nicolas Flamel, situated on Rue de Montmorency, so what we can read are his intitials. It’s not quite “his” house… but first a few words about Nicolas Flamel.
He was a scrivener and manuscript seller, born around 1330-40, who died in 1418. He made well, married a fairly wealthy young widow, Pernelle, and they made lot of donations to help the less fortunate. The house we see here is an example. It was built for homeless people … and there were many of them (also) those days - war, hunger, plague…
The street is so narrow that it's impossible to get a decent photo. I made a patchwork of the ground floor.
There are a number of inscriptions in words and pictures on the pillars and there is especially the long text covering the whole wall over the front doors and windows. Some help is needed to understand the ancient French. Word spelling and typography have changed quite a bit over years. … and there are no accents, no punctuation. One can also note the « tilde », here as a – (more known in Spanish and Portuguese as a ~), originally written over a letter as a mark of abbreviation. Here we can e.g. see the “homes”, with a – above the "m", which thus should be understood as “hommes” (“men” in English).
The text would in English be something like: “We ploughmen and women living at the porch of this house, built in 1407, are requested to say every day an Our Father and an Ave Maria, praying God that His grace forgive poor and dead sinners. Amen.”
On the front pillars, there is thus a lot to be read and seen. Going from one pillar to the other one can guess an “Ora et Labora” (Pray and Work) and some other smaller inscriptions, prayers?, only partially remaining.
The interior now houses a restaurant. According to the restaurant manager, some of the wooden pillars inside are far older than the house.
A few more words about Nicolas Flamel: Born without fortune, people were surprised to see how wealthy he became. His name has been linked to alchemy. There seems to be no proof of it, but a lot of texts published later have referred to Nicolas Flamel. This would then include the idea of the Philosopher’s Stone, which is supposed to make it possible to turn base metals into gold.
Nicolas Flamel had his home just in front of the church, Saint Jacques de le Boucherie, of which now remains only the tower, “Tour Saint Jacques” (see previous post). The house later fell into pieces, as people, looking for gold, more or less destroyed the basement. It was finally completely demolished (as well as the church), when Rue de Rivoli was opened early 19th century. Nicloas and Pernelle have got their street names here. (See map below.)
Nicolas and Pernelle were buried in the then still existing church, Saint Jacques de la Boucherie. He prepared the tombstone, which many years after the destruction of the church was found by coincidence as a tray for displaying fish on an open market. It can now be found in the Cluny Museum in Paris (see previous post).Reverting to the alchemy … and the lack of proof: It seems that the tombstone has some alchemist symbols.
Nicolas worked at different places, including under the arcades that surrounded the Innocents Cemetery (see previous post on the Square des Innocents). Someone copied the decoration under the arcade before its destruction by the end of the 18th century. Here again, it seems that there are some alchemist symbols to be found.
We may never know for certain about his possible alchemist activities, but his name is definitely linked to alchemy. Newton referred to him as well as authors like Victor Hugo, Umberto Eco, Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code), J.K.Rowling (Harry Potter)… and so does one of the Indiana Jones films.