George Ripley was one of England's most famous alchemists. His alchemical writings attracted attention not only when they were published in the fifteenth century, but also later in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. His writings were studied by noted figures such as the alchemist John Dee, Robert Boyle (who is considered to be the first modern chemist), and even Isaac Newton.

Ripley studied in Italy for twenty years, becoming a great favourite of Pope Innocent VIII. He returned to England and wrote his work The Compound of Alchymy; or, the Twelve Gates leading to the Discovery of the Philosopher's Stone (Liber Duodecim Portarum) in 1471. The work was dedicated to King Edward IV and highly appreciated by him. The Cantilena Riplaei is one of the very first poetic composition on the subject of alchemy. His twenty-five volume work upon alchemy, of which the Liber Duodecim Portarum was the most important, brought him considerable fame.

Being particularly rich, he gave the general public some cause to believe in his ability to change base metal into gold. For example, Thomas Fuller in his Worthies of England, describes a reputable English gentleman who reported having seen a record in the island of Malta which stated that Ripley gave the enormous sum of one hundred thousand pounds sterling annually to the Knights of that island and of Rhodes to support their war against the Turks.

There are approximately 23 copies of the Ripley Scroll in existence. The scrolls range in size, colour and detail but are all variations on a lost 15th century original. Although they are named after George Ripley, there is no evidence that Ripley designed the scrolls himself. They are called Ripley scrolls because some of them include poetry associated with the alchemist. The scrolls' images are symbolic references to the philosophers' stone.


Twenty-third Ripley scroll unearthed during preparation for new exhibition

An extremely rare and beautiful scroll dating from the 18th century has been discovered by Science Museum librarians preparing for a new exhibition Signs, Symbols Secrets: an illustrated guide to alchemy, which opens at the Science Museum on 27 April.

There are currently 22 Ripley scrolls that take their name from the 15th century English alchemist George Ripley known to exist in the world. This new find takes the total number of scrolls to 23.

The 20ft long scroll features an intricate series of hand painted images which are thought to symbolise the various stages of the creation of the philosophers’ stone – an alchemical substance said to be capable of turning base metals such as lead into gold or silver – the basis of Western alchemy. The legendary stone was also said to help people achieve long extended lives and even immortality.

Stephanie Millard, Exhibition Project Leader said, “We are delighted to have made this extraordinary discovery and to be able to showcase the Ripley scroll to the public for the very first time. The Ripley scrolls are extremely rare and hold vital clues to the development of alchemy – and therefore modern chemistry.”

Scholars believe the Ripley scrolls are copies and variations of a lost, 15th century original. The majority of scrolls feature English alchemical poetry alongside images. The scroll discovered by the Science Museum is thought to be incomplete – only featuring elaborate pictures with spaces left for where the verses would have been inserted.

All the scrolls range in size, but are currently thought to be too long to be viewed and understood in a single glance. Scholars are still investigating how they are meant to be read and used. It is possible that the original 15th century scroll was created for a wealthy patron interested in alchemy. Over time the scrolls also became prized as art objects in their own right.

The Ripley scroll will be the star attraction of the Science Museum’s new alchemy exhibition which also features 20 historical books and two illustrated manuscripts from the Science Museum’s Library and Archives collections. These will include Rosarium Philosophorum (‘The Rosegarden of the Philosophers’) one of the most widely-studied texts of European alchemy. Other notable objects include a 19th century bronze statue of an alchemist and a sample of gold. The free exhibition, Signs, Symbols Secrets: an illustrated guide to alchemy will open at the Science Museum on 27 April and will run until April 2013.

Alchemy refers to a set of practices found in ancient Greece, Egypt and China, and which became particularly influential in Christian, Islamic and Hindu traditions during the Middle Ages. The practitioners of alchemy, known as alchemists, taught that earthly substances were controlled by supernatural powers, and attempted to create new metallic and natural compounds by mixing existing elements together. They often did so in order to try and create valuable substances such as gold or silver, but also attempted to develop medicines.

Ripley Scroll – Q&As

Q: How much is it worth?

A: This is difficult to say. The last scroll to go at auction was sold at Sotheby's in the 1980s and was sold for around £135,000 . The Fitzwilliam Museum’s scroll (the finest in the world) is worth £250,000 at a very conservative estimate.

Q: Do we know the exact date of this scroll?

A: We only know that the scroll dates from the 18th century – the exact date isn’t known. It is probably copied from the Getty Center's scroll (LA), which is catalogued as 17th-century but which we understand to be 18th-century. This would make the Science Museum scroll 18th or even early 19th-century – but it's hard to tell since the scroll has not been scientifically dated.

Q: How was the scroll found – where was it and who discovered it?

A: It was discovered by Cate Watson, Science Museum Library Assistant when she was checking the museum’s catalogues and found something described as an ‘alchemical’ scroll. When she looked it up, she discovered that this was in fact a Ripley scroll. A colour copy of the scroll was brought to Cambridge where it was formally identified by Dr. Jennifer Rampling, who is an expert in the Ripley scrolls.

Q: When was the previous scroll found - eg. the 22nd one?

A: The 22nd Ripley scroll was discovered in 2010 by chance by researchers looking into a Parisian archive. The others have mostly been known about for a while, although scholarly interest is fairly recent.

Q: Is this the first Ripley scroll EVER to be seen in public?

A: No: there are several others that have been displayed, but only in temporary exhibitions. The Science Museum scroll will be the first to go on long-term display.

Q: Who was the artist?

A: We don’t have this information. The names "FREND" and "J. Johannes" are written on a canvas section at the foot but these are the only clues.

The Ripley Scroll

There are very wide variations in the English text on the different manuscripts, and for the text here I have modernised and unified a number of versions. This is not a properly researched edition, but a reworking of the text into a modern readable form. I add the engravings of the Scroll printed in David Beuther, Universal und Particularia... Hamburg, 1718.

You must make Water of the Earth, and Earth of the Air, and Air of the Fire, and Fire of the Earth.
The Black Sea. The Black Luna. The Black Sol.


Here is the last of the White Stone and the begining of the Red.

Of the son take the light
The Red gum that is so bright
And of the Moon do also
The which gum they both trowe
The philosophers Sulphur vive
This I call it without strife
Kybright and Kebright it is called also
And other names many more
Of them drawe out a tincture
And make of them a marriage pure
Between the husband and the wife
Espowsed with the water of life
But of this water thou must beware
Or else thy work will be full bare
He must be made of his own kind
Mark thou now in thy mind
Acetome of philosophers men call this
A water abiding so it is
The maidens milk of the dew
That all the work doth renew
The Serpent of life it is called also
And other names many more
The which causeth generation
Betwixt the man and the woman
But looke thou no division
Be there in the conjunction
Of the moon and of sun
After the marriage be begun
And all the while they be a wedding
Give to them their drinking
Acetome that is good and fine
Better to them then any wine
Now when this marriage is done
Philosophers call it a stone
The which hath a great nature
To bring a stone that is so pure
So he have kindly nourishment
Perfect heat and decoction
But in the matrix when they be put
Let never the glasse be unshut
Till they have ingendred a stone
In the world there not such a one


The Red Lune. The Spirit of Water. Red Sol. The Red Sea.

On the ground there is a hill
Also a serpent within a well
His tail is long with wings wide
All ready to flee by every side
Repair the well fast about
That thy serpent pass not out
For if that he be there a gone
Thou lose the virtue of the stone
Where is the ground you must know here
And the well that is so clear
And what is the dragon with the tail
Or else the work shall little avail
The well must run in water clear
Take good heed for this your fire
The fire with water bright shall be burnt
And water with fire washed shall be
The earth on fire shall be put
And water with air shall be knit
Thus ye shall go to purification
And bring the serpent to redemption
First he shall be black as a crow
And down in his den shall lie full low
Swelling as a toad that lieth on the ground
Burst with bladders sitting so round
They shall to burst and lie full plain
And this with craft the serpent is slain
He shall shine colors here many a one
And turn as white as whale's bone
With the water that he was in
Wash him clear from his sin
And let him drink a little and a light
And that shall make him fair and white
The which whiteness be abiding
Lo here is a very full finishing
Of the white stone and the red
Lo here is the very true deed.

The Red Lion. The Green Lion. The Mouth of Choleric beware.


Here is the last of the Red, and the beginning to put away the dead. The Elixir Vitae.

Take the father that Phoebus so high
That sit so high in majesty
With his beams that shines so bright
In all places wherever that he be
For he is father to all things
Maintainer of life to crop and root
And causeth nature for to spring
With the wife beginneth soothe
For he is salve to every sore
To bring about this prosperous work
Take good heed unto this lore
I say unto learned and unto clerk
And Homogenie is my name
Which God made with his own hand
And Magnesia is my dame
You shall verily understand.
Now I shall here begin
For to teach thee a ready way
Or else little shall thou win
Take good heed what I do say
Divide thou Phoebus in many parts
With his beams that be so bright
And this with nature him convert
The which is mirror of all light
This Phoebus hath full many a name
Which that is full hard to know
And but thou take the very same
The philosophers stone ye shall not know
Therefore I counsel ere ye begin
Know it well what it should be
And that is thick make it thin
For then it shall full well like thee
Now understand what I mean
And take good heed thereto
Our work else shall little be seen
And turn thee to much woe
As I have said this our lore
Many a name I wish he hath
Some behind and some before
As philosophers doth him give

In the sea without lees
Standeth the bird of Hermes
Eating his wings variable
And maketh himself yet full stable
When all his feathers be from him gone
He standeth still here as a stone
Here is now both white and red
And all so the stone to quicken the dead
All and some without fable
Both hard and soft and malleable
Understand now well and right
And thank you God of this sight

The bird of Hermes is my name eating my wings to make me tame.

The Red Sea. The Red Sol. The Red Elixir Vitae.
Red Stone. White Stone. Elixir Vitae. Luna in Crescent.


I shall you tell with plain declaration
Where, how, and what is my generation
Omogeni is my Father
And Magnesia is my Mother
And Azot truly is my Sister
And Kibrick forsooth is my Brother
The Serpent of Arabia is my name
The which is leader of all this game
That sometime was both wood and wild
And now I am both meek and mild
The Sun and the Moon with their might
Have chastised me that was so light
My wings that me brought
Hither and thither where I thought
Now with their might they down me pull,
And bring me where they will
The Blood of mine heart I wish
Now causeth both joy and blisse
And dissolveth the very Stone
And knitteth him ere he have done
Now maketh hard that was lix
And causeth him to be fix
Of my blood and water I wish
Plenty in all the World there is
It runneth in every place
Who it findeth he hath grace
In the World it runneth over all
And goeth round as a ball
But thou understand well this
Of the worke thou shalt miss
Therefore know ere thou begin
What he is and all his kin
Many a name he hath full sure
And all is but one Nature
Thou must part him in three
And then knit him as the Trinity
And make them all but one
Lo here is the Philosophers Stone



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