Perenelle Flamel (died 1397) was the wife of the famous 14th-century scribe Nicolas Flamel. She was a generous benefactor who invested this wealth in churches and hostels, and commissioned religious sculptures. Due to legends which first appeared in the seventeenth century, she has since developed a false reputation as a successful alchemist. Perenelle, like her husband, has had a street in Paris, France named after her, Rue Pernelle.
There are few confirmed details about Perenelle's place of birth and early life. Perenelle married Nicolas in 1368. She had two previous husbands and brought their fortune to the marriage. The couple remained childless.
She and her husband were devout Roman Catholics. The couple contributed to the church by commissioning several sculptures. Nicolas continued this practice after his wife’s death. The couple is depicted on the portal of the Chapel of St. James of the Boucherie praying at the feet of St. John, a sculpture which they financed in 1389. They owned several properties and contributed to the building of poor houses.
The spelling of her name varies and is sometimes given as Perrenelle, Petronelle or Pernelle. Though the historical Perenelle did exist, there is no historical record indicating that she or her husband were the successful alchemists of later legend.
Reputation as an alchemist
Perenelle's reputation as an alchemist stems from a book written in 1612, allegedly authored by her husband. However, Nicolas’ reputation as an author and immortal alchemical adept is an invention of the seventeenth century. Perenelle figures prominently in the introduction of this Booke of Hieroglyphicall Figures. Here the character of Nicolas Flamel outlines his quest for the philosopher's stone. In this story Perenelle witnesses alchemical projections and aids in chrysopoeia.
Perenelle in fiction
Perenelle's posthumous reputation as an alchemist has led to her portrayal in fantasy fiction alongside her husband.
- She is mentioned briefly in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling, though neither she nor her husband actually appears.
- The Sorceress: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott, in which Perenelle is a character.
- Stephen Leigh took the mystery surrounding the Flamels and wrote Immortal Muse.
- She appears as a character in a crossover story between Will Eisner’s The Spirit and Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy in the long-running Dick Tracy comic strip.
- Dixon, Laurinda (1994). Nicolas Flamel. His Exposition of the Hieroglyphicall Figures (1624). Garland Publishing. p. xvi.
- Dixon, Laurinda (1994). Nicolas Flamel. His Exposition of the Hieroglyphicall Figures (1624). Garland Publishing. p. xvii.
- Dixon, Laurinda (1994). Nicolas Flamel. His Exposition of the Hieroglyphicall Figures (1624). Garland Publishing. p. 14.