During the first half of the 13th century translations of Greek and Arabic
texts were undertaken primarily via the efforts of Frederick II.
"The Emperor Frederick II, though under the ban of the Pope (Gregory IX),
brought together in his various journeys, and especially in his crusading
expeditions, many Greek and Arabic manuscripts, and took special pains to have
those which concerned medicine preserved and studied."
"In Medieval times, Southern Italy (the court of Frederick II, the Salernitan
medical school, the alchemy of Michael Scot, Frate Elia da Cortona, the works
of Paolo di Taranto) was a very important area for the diffusion of alchemy in
Upon the death of St. Francis, Br. Elias Buonbarone became Minister-General of
the Friars Minor (the Franciscans).
"After being deposed by the Pope ...Elias openly transferred his allegiance to
Frederick II, and we read of him in
1240 with the
emperor's army, riding on a magnificent charger at the siege of
Faenza and at that of Ravenna. Some two years before this Elias had been
by Gregory IX as an ambassador to Frederick. He now
became the supporter of
the excommunicated emperor in
his strife with Rome and was himself
"He was fascinated by the spectacular court of the gifted and eccentric
Frederick II, and he
was flattered by the Emperor's regard.
This was unfortunate. Frederick II's interests, his
experiments, his conversation, his alert, inquiring and sceptical mind,
scandalised the conventional. His faith was
suspect, and his power menaced the political
the Church. There was actual war between Empire and Papacy during
much of his reign, and even when, ostensibly, there was peace, the embers of
conflict did not
die, but smouldered until they could again be
fanned into a blaze. Men questioned Elias' loyalty, and looked
askance at his pursuits - the rumour that he dabbled in alchemy may well have
been due to
his acquaintance with the astrologers and
magicians who accompanied Frederick."
"The Franciscan chronicler Salimbene complained of "the infamy
upon himself by having taken an active interest in the
practise of alchemy.
In fact whenever rumour reached his ears that there were
friars within the
order who had studied this science of deception he would
summon them to stay
with him at the Gregorian Palace" and retells a story of
Gerard of Cremona
being troubled by noises he attributed to demons when staying
there in 1247.
Andrea De Pascalis (Alchemy the Golden Art, Gremese, Rome 1995) suggests also
that this is the Elias mentioned by Michael Scot (Alchemist, Court Magician and
Astrologer to Frederick II).
De Pascalis asks why the apparantly tolerant attitude of the Church changed so
rapidly at the beginning of the 13th century, and suggests that this has to
with the "Third Age" movement associated with the writings of Joachim de
which were condemned by the Lateran Council in 1215. He suggests that
writings were popular among Franciscans and that some Franciscan
the coming of the Paraclete (Holy Spirit) as equivalent to the
resurrection of nature through
the Great Work."
Another of the 13th century alchemists was Albert Magnus, the Dominican
scholar whose father was a military lord in the army of Frederick II.
"Albertus Magnus was particularly struck by the key colour changes in the
alchemical process, suggesting for the first time that such a natural sequence
of colour might be envisaged as a circle, so a devotee could follow them easily
from one hue to the next. White, considered by Magnus to encompass all the
preceeding colours, was a necessary precursor to the final red (the Red or Gold