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Monday, December 1st, 2003
In 1926, a mysterious volume issued in a luxury edition oI three hundred copies by a small Paris
publishing Iirm known mostly Ior artistic reprints rocked the Parisian occult underworld. Its title
was Le Myst?®re des Cath?©drales (The Mystery oI the Cathedrals.) The author, 'Fulcanelli,¨
claimed that the great secret oI alchemy, the queen oI Western occult sciences, was plainly
displayed on the walls oI Paris,Äôs own cathedral, Notre-Dame-de-Paris.
Alchemy, by our post-modern lights a quaint and discredited Renaissance pseudo-science, was in
the process oI being reclaimed and reconditioned in 1926 by two oI the most inIluential movements
oI the century. Surrealism and psychology stumbled onto alchemy at about the same time, and each
attached their own notions oI its meaning to the ancient science. Carl Jung spent the twenties
teasing out a theory oI the archetypal unconscious Irom the symbolic tapestry oI alchemical images
and studying how these symbols are expressed in the dream state. The poet-philosopher Andr?©
Breton and the surrealists made an intuitive leap oI Iaith and proclaimed that the alchemical process
could be expressed artistically. Breton, in his 1924 Surrealist ManiIesto, announced that surrealism
was nothing but alchemical art.
Fulcanelli,Äôs book would have an indirect eIIect on both oI these intellectual movements.
Indirect, because the book managed a major literary miracle,Äîit became inIluential while
remaining, apparently, completely unknown outside oI French occult and alchemical circles. This is
perhaps the strangest oI all the mysteries surrounding The Mystery oI the Cathedrals.
A youthIul Jean-Julien Champagne
In the Iall oI 1925, publisher Jean Sch?©mit received a visit Irom a small man dressed as a pre-war
bohemian, with a long Asterix-the-Gaul-style mustache. The man wanted to talk about Gothic
architecture, the ,Äugreen argot,Äu oI its sculptural symbols, and how slang was a kind oI punning
code, which he called the ,Äulanguage oI the birds.,Äu A Iew weeks later, Sch?©mit was
introduced to him again as Jean-Julien Champagne, the illustrator oI a proposed book by a
mysterious alchemist called Fulcanelli. Sch?©mit thought that all three, the visitor, the author, and
the illustrator, were the same man. Perhaps they were.
This, such as it is, amounts to our most credible Fulcanelli sighting. As such, it sums up the entire
problem posed by the question: Who was Fulcanelli? Beyond this ambiguous encounter, he exists as
words on a page and, in some occult circles, as a mythic alchemical immortal with the status, or
identity, oI a St. Germain. There were two things that everyone agreed upon concerning Fulcanelli -
he was deIinitely a mind to be reckoned with, and he was a true enigma.
We are leIt then with the mystery oI the missing master alchemist. He is a man who does not seem
to exist, and yet he is recreated constantly in the imagination oI every seeker,Äîa perIect Ioil Ior
projection. We might even think it was all a joke, some kind oI elaborate hoax, except Ior the
material itselI. When one turns to Le Myst?®re, one Iinds a witty intelligence that seems quite sure
oI the nature and importance oI his inIormation. This ,ÄuFulcanelli,Äu knows something and is
trying to communicate his knowledge; oI this there can be no doubt.
Fulcanelli,Äôs message, that there is a secret in the cathedrals, and that this secret was placed there
by a group oI initiates,ÄîoI which Fulcanelli is obviously one,Äîdepends upon an abundance oI
imagery and association that overpowers the intellect, lulling one into an intuitive state oI
acceptance. Fulcanelli is undoubtedly brilliant, but we are leIt wondering iI his is the brilliance oI
revelation or dissimulation.
The basic premise oI the book,Äîthat Gothic cathedrals are Hermetic books in stone,Äîwas an idea
that made it into print in the nineteenth-century in the work oI Victor Hugo. In The Hunchback oI
Notre Dame, Hugo spends a whole chapter (chapter 2 oI book 5) on the idea that architecture is the
great book oI humanity, and that the invention oI printing and the proliIeration oI mundane books
spelled the end oI the sacred book oI architecture. He reports that the Gothic era was the sacred
architect,Äôs greatest achievement, that the cathedrals were expressions oI liberty and the
emergence oI a new sense oI Ireedom. ,ÄuThis Ireedom goes to great lengths,,Äu Hugo inIorms us.
,ÄuOccasionally a portal, a Iacade, an entire church is presented in a symbolic sense entirely
Ioreign to its creed, and even hostile to the church. In the thirteenth century, Guillaume oI Paris, in
the IiIteenth Nicholas Flamel, both are guilty oI these seditious pages.,Äu
Essentially, Le Myst?®re is an in-depth examination oI those ,Äuseditious pages,Äu in stone.
Fulcanelli elaborates on the symbolism oI certain images Iound on the walls and porches oI
architect Guillaume oI Paris,Äôs masterpiece, Notre Dame Cathedral, and its close contemporary,
Notre Dame oI Amiens. To this he adds images Irom two houses built in the Gothic style Irom
IiIteenth-century Bourges. This guided tour oI Hermetic symbolism is densely obscure, Iilled with
,Äugreen language,Äu puns and numerous allusions. To the casual reader, and even the dedicated
student, this tangled web oI scholarship is daunting.
However, to the occult savants oI Paris in the late 1920s, Fulcanelli,Äôs book was almost
intoxicating. Here, Iinally, was the word oI a man who knew, the voice oI the last true initiate. His
student, Eug?®ne Canseliet, inIorms us in the preIace to the Iirst edition oI Le Myst?®re that
Fulcanelli had accomplished the Great Work and then disappeared Irom the world. ,ÄuFor a long
time now the author oI this book has not been among us,,Äu Canseliet wrote, and he was lamented
by a group oI ,Äuunknown brothers who hoped to obtain Irom him the solution to the mysterious
Verbum dimissum (missing word).
MystiIication about the true identity oI the alchemist obscured the Iact that credible people had seen
his visiting card, emblazoned with an aristocratic signature. It was possible to encounter people at
the Chat Noir nightclub in Paris who claimed to have met Fulcanelli right through World War II.
Between 1926 and 1929, his legend grew, Iuelled by caI?© gossip and a Iew articles and reviews in
obscure Parisian occult journals. Canseliet contributed more inIormation: the Master had indeed
accomplished transmutation, Fulcanelli hadn,Äôt really disappeared, another book or two was
planned, and so on.
AIter the war, Fulcanelli,Äôs legend, and Canseliet,Äôs career, proIited Irom an upsurge oI interest
in all things metaphysical. By the mid 1950s, conditions were right to reprint both Le Myst?®re des
Cath?©drales and Dwellings oI the Philosphers.¬f Simply by having been the mysterious
Fulcanelli,Äôs student, Canseliet had become the grand old man oI French alchemy and
esotericism. But the IiIties were not the twenties, and many things had changed. One oI those things
was the text oI Le Myst?®re itselI.
Original 1936 magazine article mentioning the Cross at Hendaye.
The Fulcanelli aIIair would be oI interest only to specialists oI occult history and abnormal
psychology, except Ior the singular mystery oI the extra chapter added to the 1957 edition oI Le
Myst?®re. This second edition included a new chapter entitled ,ÄuThe Cyclic Cross oI
Hendaye,Äu and a Iew changes in its illustrations. No mention oI these changes appeared in
Canseliet,Äôs preIace to the second edition.
With Canseliet,Äôs use oI everything else by Fulcanelli, how are we to account Ior the complete
absence oI reIerence to Hendaye in Canseliet,Äôs works prior to the mid 1950s? II the chapter is
the work oI Champagne, then Canseliet must have known about it. This is not a trivial question. The
Hendaye chapter is perhaps the single most astounding esoteric work in Western history. It oIIers
prooI that alchemy is somehow connected to eschatology, or the timing oI the end oI the world. And
it oIIers the conclusion that a ,Äudouble catastrophe,Äu is imminent. II Canseliet had known oI
this, he would surely have used it, or at least mentioned it. Yet, the silence is complete and
The top oI the Hendaye Cross.
,ÄuThe Cyclic Cross at Hendaye,Äu is the next to last, or penultimate, chapter oI Fulcanelli,Äôs
masterpiece. AIter wading through thickets oI erudition and punning slang in the rest oI Le Mystere,
this chapter Ieels awash with the bright sunlight oI its Basque setting. The description oI the
monument and its location is seemingly clear and direct. Even the explanation oI the
monument,Äôs apparent meaning is simple and virtually Iree oI the Green Language code used
throughout the rest oI the book. Or so it appears on the surIace,Ä¶
We can date Fulcanelli,Äôs visit to Hendaye to the early 1920s because oI his comment on the
,Äuspecial attraction oI a new beach, bristling with proud villas.,Äu H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley,
and the smart young London set discovered nearby St.-Jean-de-Luz in 1920 and by 1926 or so the
tourist villas had spread as Iar south as Hendaye. Today, Hendaye-Plage, Hendaye,Äôs beachIront
addition, bustles with boutiques, dive shops and surIboard emporiums, having become a popular
stop over Ior the young international backpack-nomad crowd.
Although Fulcanelli declares, somewhat disingenuously: ,ÄuHendaye has nothing to hold the
interest oI the tourist, the archaeologist or the artist,,Äu the region does have a rather curious
history. A young Louis XIV met his bride on an island in the bay below Hendaye, along the
boundary between Spain and France. Wellington passed through, making nearby St.-Jean-de-Luz
his base oI operation against Toulouse at the close oI the Napoleonic Wars. Hitler also paid a visit
during World War II; in 1940 he parked his train car within walking distance oI the cross at
,ÄuWhatever its age, the Hendaye cross shows by the decoration oI its pedestal that it is the
strangest monument oI primitive millenarism, the rarest symbolical translation oI Chilaism, which I
have ever met.,Äu Coming Irom Fulcanelli, this is high praise indeed. He goes on to tell us ,Äuthat
the unknown workman, who made these images, possessed real and proIound knowledge oI the
The Curch oI St Vincent, Hendaye.
The Cross sits today in a very small courtyard just to the south oI the church. There is a tiny garden
with a park bench nearby. Standing about 12 Ieet tall, the Cyclic Cross at Hendaye looms over the
courtyard, a mysterious apparition in the clear Basque sunlight. The monument is brown and
discolored Irom its 300-plus years. The stone is starting to crumble and it is obvious that air
pollution,Äîthe cross sits a Iew yards Irom a busy street on the main square,Äîis speeding its
dissolution. The images and the Latin inscription on the cross have no more than a generation leIt
beIore pollution wipes the images clean and the message disappears Iorever.
The base oI local sandstone sits on a broad but irregular three-step platIorm, and is roughly cubic.
Measurement reveals that it is a little taller than it is wide. On each Iace are curious symbols, a sun
Iace glaring like some ancient American sun god, a strange shield-like arrangement oI A,Äôs in the
arms oI a cross, an eight-rayed starburst, and most curious oI all, an old-Iashioned man-in-the-moon
Iace with a prominent eye. Rising Irom this is a Iluted column, with a suggestion oI Greek
classicism, on top oI which stands a very rudely done Greek cross with Latin inscriptions. Above
the sun Iace on the western side can be seen a double X Iigure on the top portion oI the cross.
Below that, on the transverse arm, is the common inscription, O Crux Aves /Pes Unica, ,ÄuHail, O
Cross, the Only Hope.,Äu On the reverse side oI the upper cross, above the starburst, is the
Christian symbol INRI.
In ,ÄuThe Cyclic Cross at Hendaye,Äu Fulcanelli gives us a guided tour oI this monument to the
alchemy oI time. He begins with the Latin inscription, which he interprets, in French Irom the Latin
letters oI the original, as: ,ÄuIt is written that liIe takes reIuge in a single space.,Äu Following this
rendering, he casually suggests that the phrase means ,Äuthat a country exists, where death cannot
reach man at the terrible time oI the double cataclysm.,Äu What is more, only the elite will be able
to Iind ,Äuthis promised land.,Äu
Fulcanelli moves on to the INRI, concluding that: ,Äu,Ä¶we have two symbolic crosses, both
instruments oI the same torture. Above is the divine cross, exempliIying the chosen means oI
expiation; below is the global cross, Iixing the pole oI the northern hemisphere and locating in time
the Iatal period oI this expiation.,Äu His esoteric interpretation oI INRI, ,Äuby Iire is nature
renewed whole,,Äu goes directly to the issue oI chiliasm and a cleansing destruction as a prelude to
a re-created and Edenic world. Alchemy, according to Fulcanelli,Äôs, is the very heart oI
eschatology. Just as gold is reIined, so will our age be reIined - by Iire.
Fulcanelli concludes the chapter with a series oI metaphors: ,ÄuThe age oI iron has no other seal
than that oI Death. Its hieroglyph is the skeleton, bearing the attributes oI Saturn: the empty
hourglass, symbol oI time run out, and the scythe, reproduced in the Iigure seven, which is the
number oI transIormation, oI destruction, oI annihilation,,Äu Fulcanelli instructs us. ,ÄuThe
Gospel oI this Iatal age is the one written under the inspiration oI St. Matthew,Ä¶ It is the Gospel
according to Science, the last oI all but Ior us the Iirst, because it teaches us that, save Ior a small
number oI the elite, we must all perish. For this reason, the angel was made the attribute oI St.
Matthew, because science, which alone is capable oI penetrating the mystery oI things, oI beings
and their destiny, can give man wings to raise him to knowledge oI the highest truths and Iinally to
Because Fulcanelli so openly connected alchemy and the apocalypse, the true nature oI a very
speciIic Gnostic astro-alchemical meme emerged into public consciousness. This meant that the
secret was no longer contained among the elect societies. For the Iirst time since the age oI the
Gothic cathedrals, the meme had broken out oI its incubational structures.
In a way, the cross and its message serve as prooI that there are such things as secret societies.
Found throughout history, these societies preserve and present the secret oI the cross in various
ways. The Kabbalah in Judaism, SuIic Islam, esoteric Christianity, Gnosticism, and the Hermetic
tradition have been the keepers oI these ideas. The central message oI the three main Western
religions, that oI an eschatological moment in time, is the secret that also lies at the heart oI the
cross at Hendaye. The meme, the ability to understand the myth and its metaphors, seems to have
survived only through the actions oI these secret and insular groups.
The Cross at Hendaye stands today at the southwest corner oI Saint Vincent,Äôs Church, the
busiest street corner in town. No one notices the ordinary looking monument with its message oI
catastrophe; perhaps it was intended to be that way. The secret hides in plain sight.