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by Bamber Gascoigne

Comte de Saint-Germain (?-1784)


Adventurer, alchemist, and diplomat, whose mysterious origin created a legend around him. Comte de Saint Germain was rumored to have lived 2,000 years. The legend of St Germain, "the man who does not die," was born in the mid-1700s. Since then, endless speculations and sightings of the Count after his death has continued. St Germain was also known by such figures as Casanova, Cagliostro, and Horace Walpole. The Russian writer Aleksandr Pushkin (1799-1837) mentions him in the short story 'The Queen of Spades' (1834):

"You have heard of Count St. Germain, about whom so many marvelous stories are told. You know that he represented himself as the Wandering Jew, as the discoverer of the elixir of life, of the philosopher's stone, and so forth. Some laughed at him as a charlatan; but Casanova, in his memoirs, says that he was a spy. But be that as it may, St. Germain, in spite of the mystery surrounding him, was a very fascinating person, and was much sought after in the best circles of society. Even to this day my grandmother retains an affectionate recollection of him, and becomes quite angry if anyone speaks disrespectfully of him." (tr.  T. Keane)

Little is known of Count Saint-Germain's birth. He was said to be descended from an Alsatian Jew, a Portuguese Jew, a tax-gatherer in Rotondo, or the King of Portugal. Saint-Germain himself did not help to elucidate the enigma of his true identity. It has been also alleged, that he was the son of Prince Franz-Leopold Rakoczy (or Ragoczy) of Transylvania (1676-1735), or Juan Tomás Enríquez de Cabrera and Maria Anna von Neuburg (1667-1740), or Marquis de Rivarolo (1669-1749), or Sultan Mustapha II (1664-1703). Later he determined to take the name of Saint-Germain from the little town of San Germano, or from the holy brother, St. Germanus. Whoever he was, he was well educated, and at least for some decades he seemed relatively wealthy.

Saint Germain entered the international scene in a period, which was full of contradictions. The rationalism of the Enlightenment, represented by such writers as Voltaire, Goethe, and Rousseau, was counterbalanced by sentimental and romantic, even reactionary tendencies. Count Alessandro Cagliostro (1743-1795), a celebrated figure in the courts of Europe, was as much charlatan as his detractors alleged. Cagliostoro's real name was Guiseppe Balsamo; he possibly met St Germain in Sicily. Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) impressed Queen Louisa Ulrica, sister of Frederick the Great, by delivering a private message from her dead brother. François, Duke of Lorraine married Maria Theresa of Austria, and was the first European prince to publicise his Freemasonic affiliations. Also St Germain was associated with Freemasons. In the imperial palace, François had an alchemical laboratory. And as always, the great public was responsive to fantastic stories. In Germany, the figure of the fabulous Baron Muchhausen created a vogue for tall tales.

St Germain found his most ardent admirers from the arictocratic circles. He had an exceptional memory and he could repeat a page of print after one reading. For his wealthy patrons he sold immortality potions; the recipe of his elixir of life was a secret. The serious-minded middle-class viewed him with some disdain, as the English letter-writer and aesthetician Horace Walpole in 1745: "The other day they seized an odd man who goes by the name of Count St Germain. He 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 sings and plays the violin wondefully, is mad, and not very sensible."

At the French court St Germain was seen about 1748. He was was an ordinary looking man of medium height, he had regular features, black hair, and he was apparently a fine conversationalist. "He looks like a Spaniard of high birth," wrote one of his contemporaries. In one painting he has been portrayed wearing a fashionable wig. St German looked in 1743 about forty or forty-five years old, like a man of his age if he was born at the turn of the century. It was said that he spoke German, English, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish very well, and French with a Piedmontese accent. According to some sources, scholars were surprised by his facility in Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Arabic and Chinese. However, there is no information if he spoke Sanskrit with a Piedmontese accent. The French soldier and scholar Dieudonné Thiébault (1733-1807) wrote in Mes souvenirs de vingt ans de sejour a Berlin (1813): "In appearance Saint Germain was refined and intellectual. He was clearly of gentle birth and had moved in good societyt; he was wise and prudent man who never wilfully offended our sense of probity." ('The Count of Saint Germain or Giovannini: A Case of Mistaken Identity' by J. H. Calmeyer, in Music & Letters, Vol. 48, No. 1, Jan., 1967,  p. 4)

Casanova met St Germain in 1757 in Paris at a dinner party, and admitted in his Mémoirs that the famous Count talked with an ease and charm which captivated him. Moreover, St Germain said, that "he had the secret of melting diamonds, so that from ten or twelve small ones he could make a large one of the first water, without losing a particle of their weight." Casanova – himself a master storyteller – dismissed St Germain as an impostor.

Just like everybody else, Voltaire was aware of Saint-Germain's activities and was interested to meet him. Voltaire mentions the celebrated adventurer in his correspondence. His famous statement from his ironic letter to Frederick of Prussia, that St Germain is "a man who never dies, and who knows everything," has been often used out of its original context. It is not a declaration of belief in St Germain's immortality. Voltaire says that he has not been told any secrets and refers to St Germain's role in political manouverings – "who will probably have the honour of seeing your Majesty in the course of fifty years." Frederick responded by commenting, "the Comte de Saint-Germain conte pour rire" ("counts as a joke"). Much later, when St Germain submitted in 1777 to Frederick a memorandum offering him services, he had already changed his mind and said that rumours circulating aboutSt Germain "don't prevent me from having for this psychologist of human nature a residual weakness that I would not admit to him but that moves me to admire him." (The Jewish Alchemists: A History and Source Book by Raphael Patai, 1994, p. 463)

Madame de Pompadour and of Louis XV were amused by St Germain, although he was accused of being an English spy. He told that he had lived thousands of years and had known even Jesus Christ. However, they must have been aware, that the Bible did not prove or disprove his stories. According to an anecdote, since St Germain claimed to have discovered the secret of immortality, his valet also claimed the share that knowledge. When asked whether it was true, that his master had been present at the Cana in Galilee, where Jesus Christ turned water into wine, the valet responded: "You forget, sir, that I have only been in the Comte's service for a century." ('Saint Germain, Claude Louis, Compte de,' in An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural by James Randi, 1995, p. 206)

St Germain was a Catholic. If he believed in the transmigration of the soul, it was a Buddhist doctrine, which also the Pythagoreanists shared, but it seems that he only claimed that he was very old. This did not put him in a collision course with the authorities of the church. Cagliostro, sometimes considered St Germain's pupil, was not so lucky – he was caught by the Inquisition in Rome and sentenced to death. He spent four years in a solitary confinement and died in imprisonment in 1795. Casanova wrote of St Germain and of Cagliostro in Le soliloque d'un penseur (1786) and when he was informed that Cagliostro was in prison at San Leo, he said: "Twenty years ago, I told Cagliostro not to set his foot in Rome, and if he had followed this advice he would not have died miserably in a Roman prison."

St Germain claimed to possess the secret of eternal youth, one of the two traditional goals of alchemy. Moreover, he was an early astronaut: "For quite a long time I rolled through space. . . . I saw globes revolve around me and earths gravitate at my feet." (The Book of Immortality: The Science, Belief, and Magic Behind Living Forever by Adam Gollner, 2013, p. 230) St Germain's accounts of his adventures had also connections to the legend of the Wandering Jew, a well known Christian tale. Its first written version was printed in Bologna in 1223. To Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV, St Germain recounted anecdotes of the court of the Valois as if he had been there an eyewitness. Once he claimed that he had met Queen of Sheba and Cleopatra. "Sometimes I amuse myself, not by making people believe, but by letting them believe, that I have lived in the most remote period," he explained to Mme. de Pompadour. Eventually she become interested in his "elixir of life" and started to use it, assuring the King, that she felt she would grow no older.

St Germain's diplomatic blunders in the peace negotiation between France and England led him into conflict with the powerful Duc de Choiseul. After escaping to England, he lived in the Netherlands, and possibly in Russia, where Catherine the Great had seized the power. Little is known of his life during the following years – perhaps he went to his home. In some point his paths must have crossed with his countryman, Charles d'Eon de Beaumont, a diplomat, writer, spy, and Freemason, but there is no evidence of joint adventures. D'Eon is often called the patron saint of transvestites. St Germain was seen in France again in 1774. When the minister von Wurmb met St Germain in May 1777 in Lepzig, he estimated that the Count was between 60 and 70 years old.

His last years St Germain lived under the patronage of Count Karl of Hesse-Cassel in he duchy of Schleswig, Germany. At that time, he had spent most of his fortune, sold his precious diamonds, and he suffered from rheumatism. St German died on February 27th, 1784, according to the church register of Eckernförde. The Mayor and Council of the town stated that nothing had been ascertained as to the existence of a will. His creditors were called upon to come forward, "with their claim". Possibly Count Karl took into his possession all of the comte's papers. ('Saint-Germain, comte de (c. 1710-1784),' in The Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy by Rosemary Guiley, 2006, p. 284)

For his contemporaries, St Germain was known under the name of Comte de St Germain and Weldon, sometimes written Welldown, Wethlone, Welldone, or Woeldone. His tombstone in Eckenförde read, "He who called himself the Comte de St Germain and Welldone, of whome there is no other information, has been buried in this church." The Rosicrucians claim that the Comte is still alive and that he was once known as Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626).

The original manuscript of St Germain's Trinosophia, a work on cabalistic, hermetic, and alchemical mysteries, is in the Bibliotheque de Troyes. 'Sonnet sur la Création,' a modest poem attributed to St Germain, was published in 1795. A book of memoir, Souvenirs sur Marie-Antoinette (1836) by Comtesse d'Adhémar, claimed that St Germain was seen in Venice some years after his death. However, the work was a forgery, written by one Lamothe-Langon, whose specialty was to produce forged memoirs. Baron de Gleichen tells in Souvenirs de Charles Henri, baron de Gleichen (1868), that according to his acquaintances, St Germain had in 1710 the appearance of a man of fifty years old. De Gleichen's information is just hearsay.

In Aleksandr Pushkin short story' The Queen of Spades' a young aristocratic woman, Countess Anna Fedorovna, asks St Germain's help – she has lost much money at the card table. St Germain tells her a secret of the cards, which helps her to retrieve her loss completely. She keeps the secret. Decades later a young man becomes obsessed with it, and causes her death. Eventually she returns as a ghost and gets her revenge. The young man loses his reason. Pushkin never met the enigmatic Count, but he knew his legend well and brought another angle to it: St Germain can tell the future. In Rainer Maria Rilke's fictional autobiography, Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Lauridts Brigge (1910), St Germain is called Marquis von Belmare, who believes in the past: "Aber es gab natuerlich genug, die ihm uebelnahmen, dass er an die Vergangenheit nur glaubte, wenn sie in ihm war. Das konnten sie nicht begreifen, dass der Kram nur Sinn hat, wenn man damit geboren wird." In these works St Germain is only a side character. The American writer Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has written a number of novels, where the Count is the protagonist.

Saint-Germain's knowledge of diamonds, precious stones, and chemistry impressed his contemporaries; his dyeing skills were widely acknowledged. Graf Karl Cobenzl wrote in a letter in 1763, that he saw how St Germain made some experiments, "of which the most important were the transmutation of iron into a metal as beautiful as gold". Without any doubts, the physical goals of alchemy – the elixir of life and the Philosopher's Stone – fascinated deeply St Germain. The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung has argued that alchemy also corresponds to psychology. "What the alchemists called 'matter' was in reality the unconscious self," Jung claimed. Deliberate mystification can be pure bluff to exploit the credulous or projection of unresolved inner tensions. St Germain was secretive about his past, he had several identities, and in his occult studies, he perhaps indirectly searched the truth of himself.

For further reading: Graf St. Germain by E.M. Oettinger (1846); Historical Mysteries by Andrew Lang (1904); The Count of Saint-Germain by Isabel Cooper-Oakley (1912); Der Graf von Saint-Germain  by G.B. Volz (1923); 'Saint-Germain and Cagliostro,' in The Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross by Arthur Edward Waite (1924); The Most Holy Trinosophia Of The Comte De Saint Germain (introduction by Manly P. Hall, 1933); Kreivi de St. Germain by Halfdan Liander (1959); 'The Count of Saint Germain or Giovannini: A Case of Mistaken Identity' by J. H. Calmeyer, in Music & Letters, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Jan., 1967); Hôtel Transylvania: A Novel of Forbidden Love by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (1978); Le Comte de Saint-Germain by Paul Chacornac (1982); The Comte de Saint-Germain: Last Scion of the House of Rákóczy by Jean Overton Fuller (1988); An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural by James Randi (1994); 'Historiallisia mysteerejä: Kreivi de Saint-Germain, osa I' by S. Albert Kivinen, in Portti 4 (2000); 'Historiallisia mysteerejä: Kreivi de Saint-Germain, osa III' by S. Albert Kivinen, in Portti 3 (2002); 'Saint-Germain, comte de (c. 1710-1784),' in The Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy by Rosemary Guiley (2006); Comte de Saint-Germain by Patrick Rivière (2007); Le comte de Saint-Germain: hypothèses et affabulations by Richard Khaitzine (2008); Saint Germain by Rubén Cedeño (2010); Night Pilgrims: A Novel of the Count Saint-Germain by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (novel; 2013); Sustenance: A Novel of the Count Saint-Germain by  Chelsea Quinn Yarbro (novel; 2014)


  • Sonnet sur la Création. Poëmes Philosophiques sur l'Homme, 1795 (attributed to St Germain)
  • Practical Palmistry; or Hand Reading Simplified, by Comte C. de Saint-Germain, c. 1897 (pseud. of. E. de Valcourt-Vermont)
  • L'incostanza delusa: suite from the opera, 1900 (transcribed for piano by Rudolph Gruen, op. 49)
  • Saint Germain on Alchemy, 1962 (recorded by Mark L. Prophet and Elizabeth Clare Prophet)
  • La très sainte trinosophie. Édition intégrale du texte du manuscrit unique de la Bibliothèque de Troyes et des variantes des "Annales maçonniques" (1808), 1971 (précédée d'une enquête bibliographique et historique par René Alleau)
  • The Most Holy Trinosophia of the Comte de St.-Germain, 6th ed., 1983 (introduction by Manly P. Hall)
  • The Music of the Comte de St. Germain: the Favorite Songs from the Opera Called L'incostanza delusa, 1981 (introduction by Manly P. Hall)
  • The Most Holy Trinosophia of the Comte de St.-Germain, 1983 (6th ed., rev.; with introductory material, commentary, and foreword by Manly P. Hall)
  • Saint Germain on Prophecy, 1986 (recorded by Elizabeth Clare Prophet)


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