Alternate post title: Who Wants to Live Forever? (courtesy of Freddie Mercury). You’ve heard of Lady Ambrosia—probably from watching The Blacklist. But do you want to know the REAL story? Keep reading to find out.
This is the true—well, as true as any legend—story of Lady Ambrosia. You can read it here, and it’s also in the Database of Demons and Death Gods if you want to explore more stories like this.
The story of Lady Ambrosia and Raymund Lully comes to us from a fellow named Eliphas Lévi, a French occult author and ceremonial magician.
On a certain Sunday, in the year 1250, a beautiful and accomplished lady, named Ambrosia di Castello, originally of Genoa, went, as she was accustomed, to hear mass in the church of Palma, a town in the island of Majorca. A mounted cavalier of distinguished appearance and richly dressed, who was passing at the time in the street, noticed the lady and pulled up as one thunderstruck.
She entered the church, quickly disappearing in the shadow of the great porch. The cavalier, quite unconscious of what he did, spurred his horse and rode after her into the midst of the affrighted worshippers.
Great was the astonishment and scandal. The cavalier was well known; he was the Seigneur Raymund Lully, Seneschal of the Isles and Mayor of the Palace. He had a wife and three children, while Ambrosia di Castello was also married and enjoyed, moreover, an irreproachable reputation. Raymund Lully passed therefore for a great libertine.
His equestrian entrance into the church of Palma was noised over the whole town, and Ambrosia, in the greatest confusion, sought the advice of her husband. He was apparently a man of sense, and he did not consider his wife insulted because her beauty had turned the head of a young and brilliant nobleman. He proposed that Ambrosia should cure her admirer by a folly as grotesque as his own.
Meanwhile, Raymund Lully had written already to the lady, to excuse, or rather to accuse himself still further. What had prompted him, he said, was “strange, supernatural, irresistible.” He respected her honor and the affections which, he knew, belonged to another; but he had been overwhelmed. He felt that his imprudence required for its expiation high self-devotion, great sacrifices, miracles to be accomplished, the penitence of a Stylite and the feats of a knight-errant.
Ambrosia answered: “To respond adequately to a love which you term supernatural would require an immortal existence. If this love be scarified heroically to our respective duties during the lives of those who are dear to each of us, it will, beyond all doubt, create for itself an eternity at that moment when conscience and the world will permit us to love one another. It is said that there is an elixir of life; seek to discover it, and when you are certain that you have succeeded, come and see me. Till then, live for your wife and your children, as I also will live for the husband whom I love; and if you meet me in the street make no sign of recognition.
It was evidently a gracious congé, which put off her lover till Doomsday; but he refused to understand it as such, and from that day forth the brilliant noble disappeared to make room for the grave and thoughtful alchemist. Don Juan had become Faust.
Many years passed away; the wife of Raymund Lully died; Ambrosia di Castello in her turn became a widow; but the alchemist appeared to have forgotten her and to be absorbed only in his sublime work.
At length, one day, the widow being alone, Raymund Lully was announced, and there entered the apartment a bald and emaciated old man, who held in his hand a phial filled with a bright and ruddy elixir. He advanced with unsteady step, seeking her with his eyes. The object which they sought was before them, but he did not recognize her, who in his imagination had remained always young and beautiful.
“It is I,” she said at length. “What would you with me?”
At the accents of that voice, the alchemist startled violently; he recognized her whom he had thought fondly to find unchanged. Casting himself on his knees at her feet, he offered her the phial, saying: “Take it, drink it, it is life. Thirty years of my own existence are comprised in it; but I have tried it, and I know that it is the elixir of immortality.”
“What,” asked Ambrosia, with a sad smile, “have you yourself drunk it?”
“For two months,” replied Raymund, “after having taken a quantity of the elixir equal to that which is contained here, I have abstained from all other nourishment. The pangs of hunger have tormented me; but not only have I not died, I am conscious within me of an unparalleled accession of strength and life.”
“I believe you,” said Ambrosia, “but this elixir, which preserves existence, is powerless to restore lost youth. My poor friend, look at yourself,” and she held up a mirror before him.
Raymund Lully recoiled, for it is affirmed by the legend that he had never surveyed himself in this manner during the thirty years of his labors.
“And now, Raymund,” continued Ambrosia, “look at me,” and she unbound her hair, which was white as snow; then, loosening the clasps of her robe, she exposed to him her breast, which was almost eaten away by a cancer. “Is it this,” she asked piteously, “which you wish to immortalize?”
Then, seeing the consternation of the alchemist, she continued: “For thirty years I have loved you, and I would not doom you to a perpetual prison in the body of an infirm old man; in your turn, do not condemn me. Spare me this death which you term life. Let me suffer the change which is necessary before I can live again truly: let us renew our nature with an eternal youth. I have no wish for your elixir, which prolongs only the night of the tomb: I aspire to immortality.”
Raymund Lully thereupon cast down the phial, which was broken on the ground.
“I deliver you,” he said, “and for your sake I remain in prison. Live in the immortality of heaven, while I am condemned for ever to a living death on this earth.”
Then, hiding his face in his hands, he went away weeping. Some months after, a monk of the Order of St. Francis assisted Ambrosia di Castello in her last moments. This monk was the alchemist, Raymund Lully.
The romance ends here and the legend follows. This legend merges several bearers at different periods of the name Raymund Lully into a single personality, and thus endows the repentant alchemist with a few centuries of existence and expiation. On the day when the unfortunate adept should have expired naturally, he experienced all the agonies of dissolution; then, at the supreme crisis, he felt life again take possession of his frame, like the vulture of Prometheus resuming its banquet. The Savior of the world, Who had stretched forth His hand towards him, returned sorrowfully into heaven, and Raymund Lully found himself still on earth, with no hope of dying.