- Current Exhibit: Chemistry: From Alchemy to Radioactivity
We are delighted to add a rare work to the History of Science Collections in tribute to the OU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the School of Chemical, Biological and Materials Engineering on the occasion of the International Year of Chemistry.
The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz, an alchemical parable published anonymously in 1616, was one of three publications of the so-called “Rosicrucian brotherhood.” This little book, later discovered to be the work of Lutheran theologian and chymist Johann Valentin Andreae, was one of the most notable publications related to chemistry and to the reform of science in the first half of the 17th century. The sensation that these Rosicrucian publications generated, both positive and negative, “shook Europe for half a century” (see below).
This work is currently on display as part of the Chemistry exhibit.
WorldCat records 8 copies of this issue, and 16 copies of the other three issues of the volume. Here is the collation of the OU copy:
[Andreae, Johann Valentin] Chymische Hochzeit: Christiani Rosencreutz. Anno 1459. Arcana publicata vilescunt: & gratiam prophanata amittunt. Ergo: ne Margaritas obvce porcis, seu Asino substernerosas. Strassburg/ In Verlagerung/ Lazari Zetzners S. Erben. Anno m. dc. xvi. Octavo. 143 pages; A8-I8. Leaf I8 recto with colophon: Strassburg/ Bey Conrad Scher/ Im Jahr/ m. dc. xvi.
The parable recounted in the Chymische Hochzeit involves an elderly man named Christian Rosencreutz, who unexpectedly finds himself invited to a royal wedding. The invitation, which displays the Monas hieroglyphica of John Dee (above), is delivered to him by an angel who blasts loudly on a trumpet. After an arduous journey on foot, Rosencreutz barely reaches the castle in time to be admitted. Readers won’t forget the almost heart-breaking humility and modesty with which he conducts himself through the trials that he and the other guests must endure on each of the story’s seven days, leading finally to the accomplishment of the alchemical Great Work. Rosencreutz almost cannot believe that he has been deemed worthy to attend such an event, and before each trial believes himself unable to overcome it; indeed, most of the guests prove unworthy, and are expelled after the trials of the first two days. This vividly-told story is rich in details and wonders, such as the enigmatical play that the guests watch with the king and queen on the fourth day, and Rosencreutz’s illicit visit to the beautiful underground crypt of Venus on the morning of the fifth day. The journey to an island on a fleet of seven ships later during the fifth day lends the story an epic feel; and it is on this island that the few remaining guests gradually ascend through each floor of a tower while accomplishing the sequential stages of an alchemical operation on the sixth day.
The text is an exemplary alchemical parable and the principal Rosicrucian myth. It also has significance within the corpus of Andreae’s religio-philosophical, utopian, and Rosicrucian writings, in addition to being an interesting example of early-modern German fiction. The authorship of this anonymously published text remained unknown until the autobiography of the Protestant theologian Johann Valentin Andreae (1586-1654) was finally printed in the eighteenth century, in which Andreae confesses to have written the Chymische Hochzeit when he was around fifteen years of age (i.e. 1601-1602).
Arthur Edward Waite, one of the first to attempt an impartial study of the history of the Rosicrucian movement, believed the entire Rosicrucian controversy to center on this publication. Appearing just two years after the earliest-known publication of the Fama fraternitatis, and one year after the Confessio fraternitatis, the Chymische Hochzeit was assumed to represent the third of the so-called Rosicrucian Manifestos. As three anonymously-published works appeared in three consecutive years, it seemed to many contemporary readers to announce a serious movement. An emphasis on spiritual and scientific reform is a common thread that runs throughout these three otherwise very different documents. The sensation that these Rosicrucian publications generated, both positive and negative, shook Europe for half a century.
To the modern historian, the disturbance associated with the “Rosicrucian furor” seems consistent with the religious and social unrest that gripped Europe at that time, including the Thirty-Years War and the Galenist-Chymical-Paracelsian debates in medicine and science. Perhaps no other subject directly involves the histories of science, medicine, religion, and politics as does that of the Rosicrucian movement.
The Chymische Hochzeit: Christiani Rosencreütz was probably printed four times in 1616, the different versions being distinguishable by the text of the title page and colophon, and/or the number of pages. The versions that are usually regarded as the first and second editions (though they may simply be different impressions or states) differ in the details of their title page and colophon, but both have 146 pages of text. The present exemplar is generally thought to represent the third edition, differing in title page, colophon and the number of pages (143) from the two previously mentioned. A fourth issue, also of 146 pages, has a colophon that reads “First printed by Lazarus Zetzner in 1616,” thus introducing uncertainty as to its true date of publication. It is curious that the book was issued three times with 146 pages, but only once with 143. Each of these separate issues is very rare, as is the English edition of 1690.
We thank historian of chemistry John Norris for assistance with this description.