Seven letters by Raimondo di Sangro on the discovery of the Philosophical Candle. Maybe the greatest written contribution of prince di San Severo to Alchemy.
Eclectic mind, inventor, and machinery designer. So no wonder the text I have translated from Italian was essentially technical, about a technique hardly treated in the alchemical and scientific treatises of the time: the eternal lantern or, as he calls it, the philosophical candle. Pay attention to the term here; in fact, prince di Sangro uses “lume,” which in the Italian language of the eighteenth century was different from the latin “Lumen”, which instead determined a light rather than the device producing light.
Raimondo di Sangro (1710-1771) was undoubtedly a man of monumental biography, and without even mentioning the numerous anecdotes and famous legends about him, and neither to hint at the design of the San Severo Chapel, nevertheless, I think it is important to point at his cultural background. His parents’ families went down from Burgundy, Roman, and Aragon nobility. The education at Gesuiti in Rome. And above all, we cannot underestimate the eighteenth-century Neapolitan environment, which may amaze the alchemical and hermetic world. Still, Neapolitan scholars, it is enough to say that in the first century, B.C a colony from Alexandria of Egypt settled down in Napoli and started a chain of initiations that then lost, or scattered, in thousand streams.
Perhaps for the first time, Raimondo di Sangro used an alchemical lexicon. We know that at the end of our preparatory works, we can see the light in our vessel; the phenomenon di Sangro describes is instead of lighting of the already fixed and divided Mercurius Philosophorum ( with the texture of soft butter in summer), due to fortuitous proximity to a match. The flaming of the Mercurius Philosophorum will last for months without consumption.
My synopsis is taken from “Raimondo di Sangro, Sette Lettere sul Lume Filosofico”, edited by Collana Arcana for Edit@ 2014. In those letters, di Sangro di San Severo tells his experiences to an unidentified friend ( probably Florentin Jean Giraldi). The letters are similar to those in “Lettres écrites par Monsieur le Prince de S. Sevère de Naples a Monsr l’Abbé Nollet. Première Partie”, Neaples, Joseph Raimondi 1753. The correspondence is almost identical, except that in the Italian letters, di Sangro states he was writing the same letters to Abbot Nollet. Unfortunately, the letter replies never came to us.
Back to the little book edited by Collana Arcana, I recommend the purchase, even only for Anna Bellon’s long, scholarly, and intriguing introduction, which I didn’t translate.
As promised, here I am to tell you about my remarkable discovery. At first, I thought a single letter would be enough, but now I see it will take at least three or four letters. I get to the point: in the July of the last year, I worked on a chemical operation to get some physical pieces of evidence; after some four months of work, one of the last November nights around one in the night (1), while I was about to open four little flasks in front of me on a table, by chance occurrence, I happened to bring the matter in one of the flasks (less 7 grams to 1/4 ounce weight) near a match and see the matter to light on with a lively yellowish flame.
I was amazed and tried to move the flask away to prevent the matter in the other flasks from taking fire. To safely do it, I pulled out a handkerchief, and great was my surprise when I found that the flaming flask was just a bit more than tepid, so I could comfortably keep it with my nude hand. Then I let it burn to see for how long that would last. Still, it was already seven in the night, and after six hours of burning, the flame was as strong as freshly lit, so I decided to go to sleep and extinguish the flame, but while taking the glass plug to suffocate the flame, I noticed it was as tepid as six hours before.
The following day I woke up early to rush to my little flask to light the matter again, but that was impossible. I blended it with an ivory toothpick, and a tiny and temporary flame came out. Like the temporary flame from a bad rectified and so packed with phlegm, the spirit of wine. I spare no effort but in vain. I happened to think to weigh the matter since it looked as if nothing was consumed, and even the texture was the same as the night before, that’s to say, like soft butter in summer. In fact, to my great surprise, I found the weight was the same as before taking fire. What do you think, my dear friend, wasn’t the situation starting to become serious and astonishing? But this was just the beginning. I spent three or four days in my room to formulate some hypotheses.
I soon thought of making a kind of candle. So I took a portion of the matter in one of the three little flasks and put it in a short tube with a hole. I set a never consuming wick, well known by physicists, and, after smearing that exterior part out of the hole with my mentioned matter, I tried to bring a match near, but there was no way to light a flame on it. So I decided to remove the wick and the plug and tried to give fire directly to the matter, as the previous night, the casual proximity with a match had begun the phenomenon. But, no way, the matter didn’t take fire. So I began to think that probably the matter was too little. I placed the wick again, but not perfectly set; I put the tube on a scale and added some matter with the toothpick. The matter came to weigh 1/4 of an ounce plus 27 grams and the wick. Then I brought a match close to the wick, and it took fire. To ensure it was the additional reason for the ignition, I removed the matter under the wick with the toothpick. At a certain point, the flame began to shake like a flame close to extinguishing. I soon put back the removed matter, and the flame attained a smooth flaming. The flame was yellowish, as previously said, and smaller than a normal flame. When placing a hand over it at a distance of four fingers, I felt a burning pain. When bringing an unlit candle near it, it soon took fire. Hovering a paper over the flame, it got smoked. The light wasn’t too strong, anyway, enough to read.
Having experienced all that, I thought to add some more matter. I eventually added all the matter in the little flask, which was 1/4 of an ounce plus 20 grams. Thus 47 grams of matter. Nevertheless, this increase did not help the flame, as it remained small. Then I suspect the wick since it wasn’t of cotton. Thus I made a similar wick and put it in an oil lamp: it took flame like an ordinary cotton wick. I conclude the reason for the small flame was in the matter. Lost every hope to obtain a bigger flame, I took the tube and began to move it to another room, but after four steps, the flame began to dangerously shake like being hit by wind, but the windows were well closed, nor there was any air current.
I thought this caused the air current with my stepping, so I took a piece of paper and made a shield around the flame. I was amazed to see the flame agitation significantly increase. I stopped my steps. Then started again. Thank God I managed to get to the new room. I closed the wooden windows, lit my candle, and removed the paper protection. I decided to investigate. I bent the flame toward the right, and the flame suddenly calmed down; when I did the contrary action toward the left, the flame restarted to shake. After having experienced it over and over, I thought the candle needed a perpendicular position, which I did with a water level and putting pieces of paper under the table’s legs. Did that, the flame remained perfectly steady. So I could even open the wooden windows and stay with only the glass part of the window closed. I didn’t tell you how many times I entered the room to check my flame. From the end of November till today, which is march the second, the flame keeps burning, always steady and small. The amazing thing is that I have weighed the matter today, and it is still the same after three months without consumption—the second Letter.
In this second letter, I will tell about all the experiences that will lead me to the conclusion I will disclose later. For instance, I wanted to experiment with the flame’s excellent mobility, so I had a unique quadrangular lantern made. Three sides of cardboard and one of glass to see the flame. I placed the lantern on a wooden pedestal 50 cm. high and put my candle inside, and I saw no movement at all for at least a quarter-hour. Then I put another cardboard to partially close the superior part of the lantern so that a lot of air could enter, any other normal flame would not have suffered a lack of air in that condition, but my flame soon began to shake. So I removed the cardboard. Then I made a massive hole in a side and returned the cardboard over the flame. The flame began to shake dangerously and strangely bent towards the hole. But when I removed the superior cardboard, the flame returned to normal. I repaired the hole and made another hole, this time at the level of the flame base. Soon, the flame began to shake and lean at a right angle towards the hole, like the flames used by goldsmiths. The phenomenon was so dramatic that I removed the superior cardboard, fearing my flame would die out. I had this hole repaired, too, and planned another one, three fingers below the base of the flame. But if I had not hurried up to remove the superior cardboard, the flame would have certainly extinguished. I then tried with three great holes under the base of the flame and the cardboard over. Isn’t it strange that the flame was in danger of dying out just because the part above was partially occluded? After those experiences, I removed the lantern and replaced the candle on the wooden pedestal.
Some hours later, I had a wooden cylinder that I could place inside my candle. I also designed a nut on the base of the cylinder to make it lean with any inclination degree by degree, employing a graduated semi-circle. I had the device ready in three days and could put my candle inside. So I began to lean very slowly on the cylinder to my right. Only a degree was enough to make my flame shake. The shaking violence increased as I increased the angle of inclination since once I arrived at 45°, I decided to return at 0, but unfortunately hit the candle, and the flame was off. Once the flame died out, the matter remained so idle that it was impossible to light it again.
You would suggest using the matter in the remaining two flasks, but I have other plans for those, as I will tell you later.
After what you have read from me, you cannot deny this is a very long-lasting candle. You know all about my time-consuming work on my family chapel. Yes, as you can guess, I mean to have a never-ending flame to beautify the shrine. What shall be the difference between this flame and the common ones? Apparently, to my eyes, the lasting. You know of that tomb excavated during Paolo III and probably dating back to 1600 years before. Soon after having been taken to open air, the flame died out. There is much incredulity about that. Some say that probably the flame was a long time off, and then a sudden breeze made to be instantly revitalized; I can assure you that my flame is instead perfectly able to be alive in the open air.
In their Encyclopedia, Plott and Chambers have expressed their opinion on the eternal flames to be undoubtedly authentic. Still, nobody has ever seen one of his specimens in public. Almost they seemed to be just asbestos as wicks and naphtha as oil or the bitumen from Pitkhfer mines, which is renowned for burning without the need of a wick; nevertheless, he didn’t care about the flame lasting. Concerning the ancient lanterns, the same author thought they could be imitated by adding liquid phosphor to a pneumatic machine and a bit of air in it. You can note that I could use the matter in the remaining two flasks. Still, I can object that I prefer to conserve them since the matter was sent to a glassware laboratory for the final cooking, and I don’t think I will be able to recreate the same conditions of sun and fire cooking. I remember that the matter was under cooking for some days, but I don’t know how many. And also want to take the pair of flames in the chapel, not just one. The dome will illuminate the chapel. In the middle of the chapel, precisely under the dome, there will be a statue of Jesus Christ died, veiled in a marble shroud. The eternal candle will be there, one up and the other down.
My light will not have the name of the lantern but candles. Academic celebrities and notaries will be warned of the thing, to stay in imperishable memory, ad perpetuam rei memoriam.
You will ask me why I don’t make my discovery to be widely known. I prefer not. This is not only a prerogative of my church (2); someone else could also claim his rights.
To be continued at Raimondo di Sangro and the Philosophical Candle. Part 2 .
- I decided to let the original words of Raimondo di Sangro;
- Raimondo di Sangro di San Severo was the great master of all the Neapolitan masonry lodges of his time;