Lully, Raymond (or Ramon Lull) (ca.
An alchemist believed to possess titanic physical and mental
energy, who threw himself heart and soul into everything he
did. Lully’s father was a Spanish knight, who won the approval
of John I, king of Arragon, and was granted an estate on the
island of Majorca, where Lully was born about the year 1232.
His father’s royal privilege earned the very young Lully the appointment
of Seneschal of the Isles, but he embarrassed his
parents soon thereafter by living a life of debauchery. He consorted
with women of all sorts, especially the married woman
Eleonora de Castello, whom he followed wherever she went,
making no attempt to conceal his illicit passion. On one occasion
he actually sought the lady while she was attending Mass.
And so loud was the outcry against this bold, if not sacrilegious
act, that Eleonora found it essential to write in peremptory style
to her cavaliere servente, and bid him desist from his present
The letter failed to cool the youth’s ardor, but when he
learned that the lady was smitten with a deadly cancer, Lully’s
frame of mind began to alter speedily. Sobered by the frustration
of his hopes, he vowed henceforth to live differently, consecrating
his days to the service of God.
Lully took his holy orders, but his active and impetuous temperament
left him little inclined for monastic life. Aiming to
carry the Gospel far afield to convert the followers of Mahomet,
he began to study Arabic. In 1276 Lully founded Trinity College
of Majorca and trained other men in Arabic and prepared
missionaries for service in Islamic lands. Soon Lilly proceeded
to Rome to enlist the pope’s sympathy in his project. Lully
failed to get the pope’s support, yet, undaunted, he embarked
on his own from Genoa in about 1291, and when he reached
Tunis, he commenced his crusade. His ardor resulted in fierce
persecution and ultimate banishment, so he returned for a
while to Europe, visiting Paris, Naples, and Pisa, and exhorting
all good Christians to aid his beloved enterprise.
In 1308 he went to Africa, and at Algiers he made a host of
converts, yet was once more forced to flee for his life before the
angry Moslems. He traveled to Tunis, thinking to escape from
there to Italy, but his former activities in the town were remembered,
and consequently he was seized and thrown into prison.
Here he languished for a long time, preaching the gospel at
every opportunity that presented itself. At last some Genoese
merchants procured his release, and so Lully sailed back to
Italy. In Rome he worked strenuously to get the pope’s support
for a well-equipped foreign mission, but after he failed, he rested
briefly in his native Majorca, then returned to Tunis.
Proclaiming his presence publicly, he had scarcely begun
preaching when he was savagely attacked, left lying on the seashore,
his assailants imagining him dead. He was still breathing,
however, when some Genoese found him, and they carried
him to a ship and set sail for Majorca. But the zealot did not
rally, and he died in sight of his home June 30, 1315.
Lully’s proselytizing ardor made his name familiar throughout
Europe, and while many people regarded him as a heretic
for undertaking a mission without the pope’s sanction, others
admired him so much that they sought to make him a saint. He
was eventually canonized as a martyr, and a mausoleum was
erected to him. Meanwhile he also attained some notoriety as
an alchemist and was reported to have made a large sum of
gold for the English king. There is really no proof that he ever
visited Britain, but the remaining part of the story holds a certain
significance. It is said that Lully made the money on the
strict understanding that it should be utilized for equipping a
large and powerful band of missionaries. There is some reason
to believe that he thought to employ his alchemical skill on behalf
of his missionary object. Possibly he approached some European
sovereign with this goal in view, thus giving rise to the
tradition about his dealings with the English monarch.
Lully’s writings include a number of works on alchemy,
most notably Alchimia Magic Naturalis, De Aquis Super Accurtationes,
De Secretis Medicina Magna and De Conservatione Vitoe. It
is interesting to find that several of these won considerable
popularity and were repeatedly reprinted, while as late as 1673,
two volumes of Opera Alchima purporting to be written by him
were issued at London. Five years before this, a biography by
De Vernon had been published at Paris, while at a later date a
German historian of chemistry named Gruelin referred to
Lully as a scientist of exceptional skill and mentioned him as
the first man to distill rosemary oil.
Waite, Arthur E. Raymond Lully, Illuminated Doctor, Alchemist,
and Christian Mystic. London, 1922. Reprint, London, 1939. Reprint,
New York David McKay, 1940.