Our conference continues in honour of and under the auspices of the patron saint of alchemists; Somerset native, once Abbot of Glastonbury, Archbishop of Cantebury and skilled alchemist - St. Dunstan.
St. Dunstan was born in Somerset in 909 to Heorstan, an Anglo-Saxon noble. From a young age Dunstan received tuition from the Irish monks who lived in Glastonbury abbey. Dunstan showed a prodigious talent for all things spiritual. Before becoming a monk he was accused of sorcery and dark magic at a time when it was common for people to be in contact with both Christianity and Pagan practices. After being beaten and thrown into a cesspool by an angry mob, Dunstan fell gravely ill. Emerging from his sickness he decided to move into the church life, took robes and began living in Glastonbury as a monk.
The wealth of Glastonbury abbey was twofold: the abbey was, at various times in history, one of the richest and most visited places of pilgrimage in all of Europe. Yet Glastonbury abbey also housed one of the most extensive libraries of it's day and, it has been uncovered, alchemical equipment. So there was material wealth but also a great wealth of Spirit and learning. St. Dunstan eventually became Abbot at Glastonbury Abbey. The most famous story around Dunstan goes that he was either working at his crucible or practising the harp, when the devil showed up and disturbed him, making noise. Dunstan grabbed the devil by his nose with some hot tongs and made him promise not to bother him again. For this reason Dunstan is often depicted holding these tongs, and is seen as a protector of forges.
Dunstan's association with alchemy runs deep because his name is attributed to alchemical texts in which he describes processes for a Philosopher's Stone and methods for making medicines from gemstones. Some historical documents speak of St. Dunstan diverting Glastonbury's white and red springs into the abbey for him to use in his alchemical experiments. Dunstan later became a trusted adviser to King Athelstan of England who loved Dunstan so much he made him Archbishop of Canterbury. Dunstan was eventually canonized as a saint by the Catholic church.
Jump forward several hundred years and the Renaissance man John Dee was baptised in his local church in London which was dedicated to none other than St. Dunstan himself. Later, as an adult, Dee would have his well known collaboration with the infamous Alchemist and Sorcerer, Edward Kelley. Sources differ on a few points - Elias Ashmole noted that Kelley and Dee found mysterious red and white powders in the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey along with a text written in a strange, unknown alphabet in the tomb of a bishop. Another source says that Kelley sought out Dee because of his sole discovery of the indecipherable book - Dee had a reputation as a polymath, a codebreaker and for his ability to read many languages. So Kelley wanted Dee to translate the text. Dee and Kelley later showed up at the court of the famous patron of alchemy, Emperor Rudolf II where they would demonstrate the transmuting power of their work turning lead into gold, which was witnessed by the father of modern science, the alchemist Robert Boyle. It was said that this transmutation was made possible by the text attributed to St. Dunstan.
Elias Ashmole, author of the cornerstone 1652 collection of British Alchemical texts Theatrum Chemicum Brittanium commented on a work he believed was attributed to St. Dunstan that included four Stones. A mineral stone, for transmuting metals, a vegetable stone for growing plants and animals and a magical stone, said to extend the life of people - this was the stone said to be possessed by Hermes. The fourth stone was said to be angelic, the same Stone that was possessed by Moses and was said to contain the secret of eternal life and made it possible to communicate with angels.
St. Dunstan is nowadays a patron saint of metalworkers. Actually St. Dunstan's day in England is still the official day that new gold is assayed. Dunstan is also the patron saint of musicians.