Nicholas, or Nicolas, Flamel was a French alchemist who lived in the fifteenth century. His life is no myth: his house in Paris, built in 1407, still stands, at 51 rue de Montmorency, where it has been made into a restaurant. His deeds, though, are the stuff of legend.
Flamel is supposed to have been the most accomplished of the European alchemists. It is claimed that he succeeded at the two magical goals of alchemy supposed to have been the chief aims of that pseudoscience: he made the Philosopher's Stone that turns lead into gold, and he and his wife Perenelle achieved immortality.
Flamel is supposed to have received a mysterious book, written by an ancient person known as Abraham the Jew, from a stranger. The book was full of qabalistic words in Greek and Hebrew. Flamel made it his life's work to understand the text of these lost secrets. He travelled to universities in Andalusia to consult with Jewish and Muslim authorities. In Spain, he met a mysterious master who taught him the art of understanding his manuscript.
After his return from Spain, Flamel was able to become rich: the knowledge that he gained during his travels made him a master of the alchemical art. Flamel became a philanthropist, endowing hospitals and churches with the proceeds from his alchemical work. He caused arcane alchemical signs to be written on a tombstone, which is preserved at the Musée de Cluny in Paris. His tomb is empty; some say it was sacked by people in search of his alchemical secrets. On the other hand, if he in fact achieved the secret of immortality, his empty tomb may have another explanation.
Nicholas Flamel's story is alluded to in J. K. Rowling's first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (or, the Sorcerer's Stone,) in which he is an unseen character (see Nicholas Flamel (Harry Potter).) He is also mentioned as a "Grand Master of the Priory of Sion" in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and the 1982 book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, and is mentioned on several occasions (chapters 20 and 44) in Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
One of the symbols on his grave (below), the serpent cross is worn by the two main characters of the anime and manga series Fullmetal Alchemist, which also draws on several of Flamel's works including the Philosopher's Stone and creation of homunculus. In the DC Comics universe, he is described as an immortal (JLA Annual 2), and an ancestor of Zatara and Zatanna (Secret Origins 27).