While historical records prove that the man known as the Count de Saint-Germain actually existed, his life seems to defy common sense and appears almost magical. Was he a genius or charlatan?
While the exact date of Saint-Germain’s birth remains unknown, he himself stated (and the known facts support his contention) that he was the son of Franz-Leopold, Prince Ragoczy of Transylvania, and Princess Charlotte Amalia of Hesse-Wahnfried, who were married in 1694. After his brothers had been taken prisoner by the Austrians and his parents had died, he was brought up by the executors of his father’s will – the Duc de Bourbon, the Duc de Maine, and the Count of Charlerie and Toulouse – and through them was introduced to the courts of Europe as someone of princely blood and almost royal descent.
According to the historical work Illustri Italiani by Caesare Cantu, librarian of the great library in Milan, when this particular embodiment of Saint-Germain came of age, he was educated at the university of Sienna, travelled a lot in Italy and Spain, was greatly protected by the last Grand Duke of Tuscany, and eventually inherited his father’s considerable legacy, which may be why he never seemed to need money.
Little else was known about him until 1740, when he began turning up in various historical records as a man who appeared to be in his early thirties, moved in fashionable Viennese circles, and was renowned for his unusually sombre clothing, paradoxical fondness for spectacular diamonds, and penchant for telling extraordinary tales about his past life, including his claim that he had known the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary & Joseph) intimately; been present at the marriage feast at Cana; been a good friend of Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary; personally proposed her canonisation at the Council of Nicaea in CE 325; and prophesied that Christ would come to a bad end.
The Saint-Germain of those days was widely spoken of as an enigmatic and remarkable figure who practised alchemy, was an expert jeweller, had travelled widely in Europe, Africa, India, China and Persia, was known to speak many languages fluently, including Chinese, Hindu and Persian, composed music and played the violin. (Pieces of music, dated 1745 and 1760, supposedly composed by, and certainly signed by, Saint-Germain, are to be found in the British Museum in London.) He also had a reputation as a ‘magical’ healer, was reported to be deeply involved in numerous esoteric orders, including the Rosicrucians and Templars, and was rumoured to be able to turn base metal into gold. He frequently described machines that bore remarkable similarities to locomotives and steamships (which had not been invented at the time) and there were suggestions he possessed the Alchemist’s Stone, had drunk from the Fountain of Eternal Youth, and was approximately 4,000 years old.
With regard to Saint-Germain’s frequent talk of futuristic machines, the library in Troyes, France, is in possession of a document signed by him, in which he describes an experience that seems remarkably similar to modern space travel:
We moved through space at a speed that can be compared with nothing but itself… Within a fraction of a second the plains below us were out of sight, and the earth had become a faint nebula. I was carried up, and I travelled through the empyrean for an incalculable time at an immeasurable height. Heavenly bodies revolved, and worlds vanished beneath me… (La Très Sainte Trinosophie)
There were many who believed Saint-Germain was a confidence trickster, but just as many who took him seriously – not least the governments of the major European countries, since the Count, apart from being talked about as a remarkable man, also had the reputation as someone involved, rather shadily, in politics. On the one hand accused by the French police of being a Prussian spy, he was, on the other, suspected by the Prussians of being a Russian agent. To complicate matters further, in November 1745, in a London obsessed with Jacobite plotters and their French sympathisers, he was arrested by the English authorities, accused of having pro-Stuart letters in his possession. He claimed indignantly that the letters had been planted on him, and was eventually released.
Commenting on the case in a letter to Sir Horace Mann, dated 9 December 1745, Horace Walpole, the famous British art historian and esteemed man of letters, wrote the following odd description: “He [Saint-Germain] has been here these two years, and will not tell who he is or whence, but professes that he does not go by his right name.” He also wrote that Saint-Germain “sings and plays the violin wonderfully” but added that he was “mad and not very sensible.”
The even more bewildering and legendary aspects of the original Saint-Germain began shortly after the Count had, according to the French Marshal de Belle Isle, cured him of a serious illness and was rewarded by being taken to Paris, where the grateful Marshal set him up with apartments and a laboratory for his alchemical experiments. According to Touchard la Fosse, in his Chroniques de l’Oeil de Bœuf, shortly after Saint-Germain’s arrival in Paris he attended a soirée given by the aged Countess von Georgy, wife of the deceased ambassador to Venice, who remembered meeting someone with the same name as, and similar appearance to, Saint-Germain in Venice in the 1670s. When the surprisingly youthful Saint-Germain confirmed to the ageing Countess that the man she had met all those years ago had been himself, she could scarcely believe it, since this would have made him nearly a hundred years old. However, Saint-Germain insisted he was that same man and that he was in fact very old. But then, when the stunned Countess said he must be “a devil,” Saint-Germain “trembled violently,” told her not to use such terms, and fled from the room.
A possible substantiation for Saint-Germain’s claim that he was the man known to the much younger Countess von Georgy in the 1670s was recorded by Baron Charles Henry de Gleichen, a Danish diplomat. In his published memoirs, Baron Gleichen stated that the composer Philippe Rameau and a relative of the French ambassador to Venice had both assured him they had known Monsieur de Saint-Germain in the early 1700s when, according to them, he appeared to be a man of about fifty. The Baron also confirmed that Saint-Germain had a fondness for unusual diamonds when, in the same memoirs, he wrote: “He showed me some remarkable things – a great number of coloured brilliants and other stones of unusual size and perfection. I thought I was seeing the treasures of the fabled Cave of Jewels…”
Could these unusual diamonds have been the products of alchemical experiments? Certainly it was believed at the time Saint-Germain was an alchemist who could turn base metal into gold, or glass into diamonds, and whose obsession with alchemy might also have led to his discovery of the elixir of life. This was thought to explain why many people remembered him from years previously and why he seemed relatively ageless. This latter aspect of his personality was heightened by his oft repeated claims that he never ate – and certainly he was never seen eating or drinking in public.
In 1758, while still in Paris, Saint-Germain was presented to Louis XV by Marshal de Belle Isle in the saloon of Louis’ mistress, Madame de Pompadour. He seems to have charmed both of them, since two years later, in 1760, he was sent by Louis XV to the Hague as his personal representative, to help settle the peace treaty between Prussia and Austria. While in Holland, he fell out with his former friend, the notorious philanderer Casanova, who then tried to discredit him. This may have encouraged the enmity of Louis’ Foreign Minister, the Duc de Choiseul, who convinced Louis that Saint-Germain had betrayed him and should be thrown into the Bastille. To save his neck, Saint-Germain fled to England.
Subsequently, a London Chronicle article of 3 January 1760, which was mainly concerned with Saint-Germain’s then widely reported ‘eternal youth’, stated: “No one now doubts it, although at first it was thought to be pure fantasy. In fact, everyone believes that, among other things, he knows of a panacea for all diseases and is able to overcome old age.”
What this proves so far is that Saint-Germain definitely existed, that he was very odd indeed – a musician and composer, an astonishing linguist, an authority on world history, a magician and alchemist rumoured to be 4,000 years old – and who, at least according to historical records, did live a remarkably long time.
However, from this point on, the recorded facts make his life much more concrete.
In 1762 he took part in the deposition of Peter III of Russia and in bringing Catherine the Great to the throne. A year later, he was known to be carrying out further alchemical experiments in his laboratory in the Renaissance château at Chambord, south-west of Orléans, which Louis XV had put at his disposal in 1758. (Other guests in the château at the time included the Princess of Anhalt-Zerbst, mother of Catherine II of Russia; the Marquise d’Urfe; Baron de Gleichen, and Madame de Genlis, all of whom mentioned Saint-Germain’s experiments in their letters and memoirs.) The following year he was living in Holland under the name of Count Surmount, where he established another laboratory in which he made paint and dyes, as well as continuing his alchemical experiments. After disappearing from Holland with about 100,000 guilders, he materialised in Belgium, this time calling himself the Marquis de Monferret – and there, in Tournai, he set up another alchemical laboratory.
In 1768 he turned up in Russia in the court of Catherine the Great, whom he had previously helped bring to the throne. According to Count Alexei Orlov, then head of the Russian Imperial Forces, he was an invaluable diplomat and palace advisor during the Russian-Turkish war of 1768-70. As a reward, he was made a high-ranking officer in the Russian Army – a position he took under the ironic English alias of General Welldone – but instead of reaping the benefits of his prestigious position at the end of the war, he chose instead to leave Russia and go to Germany where, with his friend and pupil, Prince Charles of Hesse-Cassel, he carried out more alchemical experiments, as well as studying Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism.
A decade before this, on 15 April 1758, Voltaire, the famous French historian and philosopher, in one of his many letters to Frederick the Great, had described Saint-Germain as “a man who knows everything and never dies.” He then added: “I think it quite probable that this man will visit you within the next fifty years.” While this visit never came to pass, in 1779, Princess Amalie of Prussia, the sister of Frederick the Great, met Saint-Germain and became interested in him. However, when a letter from Saint-Germain to Frederick the Great, begging for patronage, was ignored (possibly because of Frederick’s embarrassment over widely circulated reports that Saint-Germain had worked for him as a double-agent during his period in the French court) Saint-Germain returned that same year to Eckernforde, in Schleswig, Germany, where he lived, and reportedly died, in the castle of his old friend, Prince Charles of Hesse-Cassel.
The parish records in the Catholic church of Eckernforde say that Saint-Germain died on 27 February 1784, and was buried locally. If this was true – and assuming that Saint-Germain was about fifty years old in 1701 – it makes him (at a time when thirty-five was old age) over 130 years old when he died.
Assuming that he did die in Eckernforde.
Although Saint-Germain’s burial is recorded in the records of the parish church in Eckernforde, a great deal of mystery surrounds his death. For a start, he was reported to have died when his good friend and disciple, Prince Charles, the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, was absent from home, and with only two nameless women in attendance. To deepen the mystery, Prince Charles then burned all of Saint-Germain’s supposedly invaluable papers – in his own words, “Lest they be misinterpreted.” Almost immediately, rumours that Saint-Germain was still alive spread like wildfire.
In 1785, an important congress of Freemasons was held in Paris and attended by Rosicrucians, Kabbalists, Illuminati and members of other secret societies. According to the Masonic archives, the guests included the famous magician, mystic and alchemist, Count Cagliostro, the philosopher Louis Claude de St. Martin, the renowned physician and hypnotist, Franz Mesmer, and… the Count de Saint-Germain, who is also recorded as having addressed the meeting.
This was not his only post-death appearance. It was recorded by the diarist Mademoiselle d’Adhemar that he visited her five times over a period of many years, beginning in 1789, when he also visited Sweden’s King Gustavus III to warn him of danger, and ending in 1820, the night before the infamous murder of the Duc de Berri. Even stranger is that in her own diaries, Marie Antoinette expressed regret that she didn’t take note of Saint-Germain’s earlier warning about the forthcoming outbreak of the French Revolution. Reportedly, Saint-Germain also appeared to Marie Antoinette in prison, to warn her of the date and time of her execution.
Nor does it end there… Twenty-eight years later, in 1821, the noted educationalist, Madame de Genlis, mentioned in her memoirs a conversation she had with Saint-Germain during the Vienna peace talks; and in the same year the French ambassador, the Count de Chalon, claimed to have spoken to him in St. Mark’s Square in Venice. By 1842, Saint-Germain’s name was being mentioned in connection with Lord Lytton, whom he was said to have helped develop supernatural powers. In 1867 a meeting of the Grand Lodge of Freemasons in Milan, Italy, was reportedly attended by Saint-Germain; and in 1896, when, according to the evidence, he would have been approximately 245 years old, the famed Theosophist Annie Besant wrote that she had recently met him.
Sceptics argue the known history and longevity of Saint-Germain is some kind of elaborate hoax, but it would be impossible for any individual, or organisation for that matter, to extend such a hoax over such a long period of time, as well as keeping it alive in so many different countries and cultures. Sceptics also ask why, given that Saint-Germain was supposed to have led such an extraordinary and active life, the historical records on him are so thin – but this may have been deliberate on Saint-Germain’s part. For instance, Napoleon III was so intrigued by the stories about Saint-Germain that he set up a special council to investigate him. However, the commission’s findings were destroyed in a fire that consumed the Hotel de Ville in Paris in 1871 – and few were willing to ascribe that disaster to coincidence. Similar obstructions to the sources of information, and the mysterious destruction of discovered rare material evidence, have occurred throughout the years since Saint-Germain’s final recorded materialisation in 1896, when Annie Besant noted her meeting with him.
Saint-Germain was obsessed with alchemy and the possibilities of alchemical transformation. One of the purposes of alchemy is to find a means of purifying humanity as well as Nature and applying that purification to material objects, the cosmos, or man. The changing of metal into gold is only a small part of alchemy – the unimportant part. Its major purpose is to find the ultimate purification – the panacea, the cure for all ailments, the elixir of life, the Hermetic secret that gives one immortality. Because of this, many believe Saint-Germain did not die in Eckernforde in 1784, but that he simply moved on – either in the flesh or in the spirit – and possibly commanded Prince Charles, his faithful friend and disciple, to fake his death… as it had been faked many times before.
In the register of the Nicolai church in Eckernforde, Germany, the following words are inscribed:
Deceased on February 27th, buried on March 2nd, 1784.
The so-called Comte de St Germain and Weldon.
Further information not known.
That use of the phrase ‘so-called’ only deepens the mystery.
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