Bridlington and The Philosophers Stone
Sir George Ripley was one of the most important of the English alchemists. Very little is known about him personally, but it is thought that he became a Canon at the Priory of St Augustine, Bridlington during the 15th century. His scientific work greatly influenced eminent scholars of the time such as Queen Elizabeth’s personal alchemist John Dee, Robert Boyle, who was considered the first modern chemist, and physicist Issac Newton.
Sir George Ripley was born in Yorkshire, he was obsessed with the study of alchemy and he travelled frequently to Italy in search of The Philosophers Stone. After years of searching he claimed to have found the stone and then returned to Bridlington. Writing to a friend he wrote, “I have found what I have been looking for and I am now a happy man”. He is reputedly buried, with the stone, in the grounds of the Augustine Priory which was on the site of what is now The Priory Church of St Mary, commonly known as Bridlington Priory Church.
The Philosophers Stone is a legendary item of alchemy used to turn base metal into Gold. The stone is also called ‘the elixir of life’ and used to revitalise the human spirit, to invoke rejuvenation and to prolong life indefinitely. The philosopher's stone was the symbol of the mystical terminology of alchemy, symbolising perfection in science and perfection in the human condition - ‘enlightenment’.
The history of The Philosophers Stone goes back to Adam who, it is said, acquired the knowledge of the stone directly from God. The stone, or the formula for its making has always been a well kept secret and has been passed down throughout history written down in sacred texts.
In the 14th Century the French alchemist Nicholas Flamel claimed to have come across it in sacred text which he spent twenty years deciphering in order to create the stone and achieve immortality. His own notes were very precise, “on the 25th of April 1382 at about five o’clock in the evening I transmuted metal into almost pure gold, it’s better than common gold, it’s more soft and pliable...”
Flamel’s reputation as an alchemist increased posthumously, when French writers like Victor Hugo and Erik Satie, where so intrigued by him they included him in their literature as a background character . Flamel’s reputation increased again in modern times through the books by Dan Brown and more so the Harry Potter series by J K Rowling. Historians state that though Flamel is probably now the most famous alchemist in history, he actually did very little to warrant this in his life time, and that the accounts of his life are most probably a closer to the accounts of the life of Sir George Ripley and his adventures in Italy and Bridlington..
Nicholas Flamel’s house, where he manufactured The Philosophers Stone, is still standing in Paris at 51 Rue de Montmorency and he now has a street named after him near The Louvre, called the ‘Rue Nicolas Flamel’. But there is also a street called ‘Ripley Close’ in Bridlington.
What happened to Sir George Ripley when he returned to Bridlington after he found the Philosophers Stone is a mystery. His texts are kept in the London Museum and London’s Science Museum and those looking for the formula to create The Philosophers Stone try to decipher the symbols on his scrolls. George however informed me this morning by text, that the reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated, that he is still in possession of the stone and lives happily in a little fishing cottage in Bridlington Old Town. (I made that last bit up).