Within the tradition of the Great Work of alchemy is the idea that the initiations, explanations and rituals of alchemy are embedded into many great works of art. The pyramids of Egypt and the great cathedrals of France are referred to as ‘books of stone’. In other words there is deep knowledge built into these edifices that only an initiate of the alchemical tradition can truly understand. The great architects and artists, many of whom were alchemists themselves, had a very clear idea of what it was that they were attempting to transmit. It is only the viewer of these works that is left in the dark. As the French writer and alchemist Fulcanelli reveals in his masterpiece ‘Mystery of the Cathedrals’, the grand churches of France were built as part of this Great Work. Indeed, anyone who visits the cathedrals of Europe, but especially France, comes away with a feeling of complete awe.
But what was this Great Work supposed to accomplish? The answer to this important question, according to the alchemists, was the very transformation of the human spirit. Although it is true that the symbols and the geometry of the cathedrals were designed so that only a true initiate of the mysteries could really understand their significance, the builders and creators of the Great Work knew that everyone who experienced the cathedrals would come away transformed. Even the ones who were not initiates would still come away with a feeling of awe. The truth is that even radical atheists are amazed and surprised by the beauty of Notre Dame or Chartes Cathedral.