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Bernard of Trevisa

(1406 - 1490)


Bernard of Trevisa was a German alchemist from Trier, also known at the time as Trevisa or Treves. Bernard was unfortunately accident prone; his less memorable exploits into the field of alchemy included accidentally poisoning King Charles VI and the Duke of Burgundy with an alchemical medicine which evidently was not too successful; He reassured Charles on his recovery that the medicine was not actually poisonous and an remarkably credulous Charles apparently believed him. As a result he escaped punishment. On another occasion he rendered himself unconscious for fourteen months when he inhaled vitriol fumes.

Bernard invested years of effort and vast sums of money fruitlessly testing the ideas and repeating the experiments of Arabian alchemists. These included Rhazez and Jabir and at one time he was using up to 2000 hens eggs in experiments:

"When I perceived that I had proceeded a considerable length in this Art, I began most earnestly to court and to frequent the company of
those who were learned in it also: for it becomes good men to join themselves to their equals and not to others."

Reputedly he was aware of the activity of Hermes Trismegistus in the Middle East:

"Bernard of Trevisa states that the said Hermes came to the valley of Hebron, and there found seven stone tables, on which a summary of the seven
liberal Arts had been inscribed before the Flood; for this same Hermes flourished both before and after the Flood, and is identified with Noah.
Then this Art found its way into Persia, Egypt, and Chaldaea. The Hebrews called it the Cabbala, the Persians Magia, and the Egyptians Sophia,
and it was taught in the schools together with Theology; it was known to Moses, Abraham, Solomon, and the Magi who came to Christ from the East."

Passng through the city of Apulea in India he came upon "I met with a most limpid little fountain, surrounded and fortified with a most beautiful stone in an oaken trunk, and enclosed within a wall, that brutes might not enter nor birds make a bath for themselves there. Sitting above this fountain, I contemplated its beauty." The king spent 212 days at a time within the confines of the fountain and reappeared rejuvenated. Bernard appears to have regarded this fountain as one expression of the Philosopher's stone and possibly the elixier of life.

Finally he held the Middle Eastern alchemists in low esteem because of the repeated failure of the experiments. Later he visited Rhodes where he found a financial backer for his further experimentation. Finally he was reputedly successful at the age of eighty.

Acknowledgements and further reading:

Klossowski de Rola, StanislasAlchemy, The Secret ArtThames and Hudson
Sir Paul Harvey (Ed.)The Oxford Companion to English LiteratureOUP
Martin, ShaunAlchemy and AlchemistsPocket Essentials
Redgrove, StanleyAlchemy Ancient and ModernAres

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Ken James 2008