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  • Writer's pictureKate Woodman

La Plus Vielle Maison à Paris (The oldest building in Paris) 51 rue de Montmorency

Updated: Feb 16, 2020


ll y a un an, alors que j’étais arrivée à Paris, j’ai passé avant d’un restaurant qui s’appelle Auberge Nicolas Flamel. Par les vitraux j’ai vu la salle à manger avec les nappes blanches, les fleurs et bougies, les verres à vin en cristal et j’ai pensé que c’était un restaurant élégant et très cher. Je ne savais pas le nom Nicloas Flamel, donc j’ai assumé que c’était le nom du chef du restaurant. Je passe devant cet restaurant peut-être trois ou quatre fois par semaine parce qu’il est situé très proche de mon appartement. Mais ce n’est que l’ouverture de la Boulangerie Nicolas Flamel en face du restaurant que j’ai récherché le restaurant et le nom Nicolas Flamel.

A year ago, when I had just arrived in Paris, I walked past a restaurant called Auberge Nicolas Flamel. I noticed it because, unlike most of the restaurants in my neighborhood, it looked quite formal. When I peeked through the leaded windows, I saw a lovely dining room with round tables covered with starched white tablecloths, fresh flowers and candelabra and crystal wine glasses. Not recognizing the name Nicolas Flamel, I assumed it was the name of the chef/owner. As this restaurant is located just around the corner from my apartment, I walk past it all the time. But it wasn’t until a boulangerie of the same name opened across the street that I decided to do some research on the name and the restaurant.

Boulangerie Nicolas Flamel

Dining room of Auberge Nicolas Flamel

Upper floors that housed the workers

Entrance to Auberge Nicolas Flamel

J’étais surpris d’apprendre que Nicolas Flamel était un homme né en 1330. Il était un copiste, notaire et libraire accompli et plein de succés. Toutefois il était plus connu comme l’alchimiste qui est parvenu à découvrir le secret de la Pierre philosophale, gage d’éternité, et le moyen de transmuter le plomb en or. En fait, J.K. Rowling a lui fait un personnage dans son premier film « Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone ». Donc Nicolas Flamel n’est pas le chef d’Auberge Nicolas Flamel. Le chef est Alan Geaam, connu pour ses recettes originales qui marient le patrimoine français et des influences libanaises.

I was surprised to learn that Nicolas Flamel is a man who was born in the 14th century….1330. He was an accomplished and successful scribe, jurist and seller of rare books. However he was better known as an alchemist who it is said discovered the philosopher’s stone (which turns lead into gold) and achieved immortality. J.K. Rowling furthered and cemented his notoriety by making him a character in the film of her first novel, “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.” A synopsis of the film describes the fictitious Mr. Flamel as a man "who celebrated his six hundred and sixty-fifth birthday last year [and] enjoys a quiet life in Devon with his wife, Perenelle (six hundred and fifty-eight)."

From "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone".....Hermione sharing her discovery of Mr. Flamel and his stone with Harry and Ron

Nicolas Flamel as portrayed by actor Brontis Jodorowsky in "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald," described as a not yet released film with a screenplay by J.K. Rowling and part of the Harry Potter franchise

Mais pourquoi le restaurant s’appelle « Nicolas Flamel ? » Parce que le bâtiment où il est situé a été construit par Flamel et sa femme, Dame Pernelle, en 1407. En fait, c’est la plus ancienne maison de Paris et est classée Monument historique. Ils l’aménagent en auberge pour les pauvres, destinée à servir de refuge aux sans-logis de l’époque. En échange, ils leur demandaient seulement de dire quelques prières, comme en témoigne l’inscription sur la corniche, restaurée au début du XXème siècle. Lui et Pernelle vivaient modestement et utilisèrent leurs richesses pour aider leur prochain. Nicolas Flamel a financé quatorze hôpitaux et construit trois chapelles, sept églises et quelques maisons.

So if Nicolas Flamel is not the chef of l’Auberge Nicolas Flamel, why does the restaurant bear his name? Because he and his wife, Pernelle, commissioned the building’s construction in 1407. In fact, it is the oldest stone building in Paris and is classified as an historic monument. The four-story, simple grey stone building offered lodging and meals to itinerant workers. Much like today, the ground floor was a tavern, and rooms on the upper floors housed the workers.

Plaque on the front of the house reads: "to ensure that their charitable works will not be forgotten, the City of Paris in 1906 restored the primitive inscriptions from 1407"

In exchange for the Flamels’ generosity was a simple requirement, still visible on a stone banner above the doorway: ‘We men and women laborers living at the porch of this house built in the year of grace 1407 are requested to say every day a paternoster and an ave maria, praying God that His grace forgive poor and dead sinners’. The initials ’N’ and ‘P’ of the founders are noted on the facade, along with Gothic inscriptions and illustrations on the pillars of the base moldings. Curly-haired musician angels flank the doorway, strumming away on a mandolin, harp, psaltery and recorder. Sporting moon-shaped haloes and clerical-style robes, and set into a beveled framework bordered with architectural columns, they appear to be the artistry of Flamel himself, who designed his own tombstone, today on view in the Cluny Museum.

Part of the inscription that runs along the width of the house requiring those residing there to pray

Initials "N" and "P" carved into the facade

Angels flanking the doorway

Clearly if I had read this historic plaque, it would not have taken me a year to discover that Nicolas Flamel is not a chef and that the oldest house in Paris is one I walk past just about every day!

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