George Ripley and the Philosopher’s Stone

In researching my book Close to the Edge I came across all manner of weird and wonderful people who left their footprint on the sands of the East Yorkshire coast and whilst wondering what to give you as a New Year offering I remembered George Ripley, a Canon at Bridlington Priory who worked something of a portfolio career in the heady years of the 15th century. He pursued not only his religious vocation, but also became an “expert” alchemist, chamberlain to the Pope and financial backer (allegedly) of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem in Rhodes when they were hassled by the Turks. In between times, he fitted in a marriage (permissible in those days for churchmen) and sired two sons.

George left the Priory, where he studied the Physical Sciences and legged it to Europe, living for a while in Rome where  Pope Innocent VIII took a shine to him and created him Chamberlain and Master of Ceremonies. In 1478 he returned to these shores and, wrapped in his bony bosom, (OK – poetic licence here – I just picture him as tall, thin and bony) lay The Secret – that of Transmutation.

He made known this secret in his best known alchemical opus – The Compound of Alchemy in which he discloses “the right and perfectest meanes” to make the Philosopher’s Stone – that elusive stuff that magicks rusty old scrap metal into gold and silver bling and, as an added bonus, produces The Elixir of Life. This work, written in verse, describes the twelve stages or “gates” of the alchemical process. A century later his recipe is translated into pictures known as Alchemy for Dummies, no, sorry I mean the Ripley Scrolls.


Ripley shuffled off his own mortal coil around 1490 and  achieved post-mortem stardom when The Compound of Alchemy became a best seller. That and his other works contributed to a resurgence of interest in alchemy particularly in the following couple of centuries.

You want in on the secret too?

Here’s the first verse from the first of the twelve gates. You will find all the rest at


Calcination is the purgation of our stone,
And restoration also of its natural heat.
Of radical humidity it looseth none,
Inducing solution into our stone most mete.
Seek after philosophy I you advise
But not after the common guise,
With sulphur and salts prepared in diverse ways.

Good Luck and a Very Happy New Year to you all.

P.S. Click on the image if you want to see it in all its glory. It’s part of the Scrolls and ta very much Wikipedia Commons.