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Michał Sędziwój

  Michał Sędziwój (Michael Sendivogius) (1566 - 1636) was a Polish alchemist, philosopher, medical doctor.

A pioneer of chemistry, he developed ways of purification and creation of various acids, metals and other chemical compounds. He discovered that air is not a single substance and contains a life-giving substance - later called oxygen - 170 years before Scheele and Priestley. He correctly identified this 'food of life' with the gas (also oxygen) given off by heating nitre (saltpetre). This substance, the 'central nitre', had a central position in Sędziwój's schema of the universe.


He was among the few alchemists who supposedly knew the secret of the philosopher's stone. He is said to have obtained the precious substance upon marriage to the widow of alchemist Alexander Seton, who had died shortly after Sędziwój assisted in his rescue from imprisonment and torture in Saxony where Seton refused to reveal it.

Widely referred to as a "black powder" (though his steward claimed it was red), Sędziwój is said to have used this philosopher's stone to convert large amounts of gold from quicksilver, including during an exhibition in the presence of the Emperor Rudolph II. Sędziwój was captured and robbed by a German alchemist named Muhlenfels who had conspired with the German prince, Brodowski, to steal Sędziwój's secret. Sędziwój complained of Muhlenfels' crime to the emperor in Prague, who ordered Muhlenfels be brought to court. Fearing exposure of his part in the conspiracy should Muhlensfels be brought to justice in Prague, Brodowski captured Muhlensfels first and had him hanged in his court yard. Though the plunder was returned, Sędziwój was careful to keep his secrets much more closely, and no longer performed public transmutations. [1]

In the 1590s Sędziwój was active in Prague, at the famously open-minded court of Rudolf II.

In Poland he appeared at the court of King Sigismund III Vasa around 1600, and quickly achieved notoriety, as the Polish king was himself an alchemy enthusiast and even conducted experiments with Sędziwój. In Kraków's Wawel castle, the chamber where his experiments were performed is still intact. The more conservative Polish nobles soon came to dislike him for encouraging the king to expend vast sums of money on chemical experimentation. The more practical aspects of his work in Poland involved the design of mines and metal foundries. His widespread international contacts led to him employment as a diplomat from about 1600.

His works and books, the most famous of which was "A New Light of Alchemy", (Latin original published in 1605), were written in alchemical language, in effect a secret code which was understandable only by other alchemists. Besides a relatively clear exposition of Sędziwój's theory on the existence of a 'food of life' in air (ie Oxygen), his books contain various scientific, pseudo-scientific and philosophical theories, and were repeatedly translated and widely read among such worthies as Isaac Newton into the 18th century.

In his later years, Sędziwój spent more time in Bohemia and Moravia (now in the Czech Republic), where he had been granted lands by the Habsburg emperor. Near the end of his life, Sędziwój settled in Prague, on court of Rudolf II, where he gained even more fame as a designer of metal mines and foundries. However the Thirty Years' War of 1618-48 had effectively ended the golden age of alchemy: the rich patrons now spent their money on financing war rather than chemical speculation, and Sędziwój died in relative obscurity.

Sędziwój in fiction

First appearance of this character in fiction was in an 1845 book "Sędziwoj" by Józef Bohdan Dziekoński, a writer during the times of romanticism in Poland. Nowadays he appears in several books by Polish writer Andrzej Pilipiuk (Kuzynki, Księżniczka, Dziedziczki). He was also shown (thinly disguised) as the Alchemist Sendivius in the Polish TV series in the 1980s.

The Polish 19th century realist painter Jan Matejko depicted Sędziwój demonstrating a transmutation of a base metal into gold before King Zygmunt III Wasa.


  1. ^ Charles Mackay, "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds", Harmony Books 1980.
  • Michael Sendivogius, The Alchemical Letters of Michael Sendivogius to the Rosicrucian Society, Holmes Pub Group Llc, ISBN 155818404X
  • Zbigniew Szydlo, Water which does not wet hands. The alchemy of Michael Sendivogius, London-Warsaw 1994
  • Rafal T. Prinke, MICHAEL SENDIVOGIUS and CHRISTIAN ROSENKREUTZ The Unexpected Possibilities, The Hermetic Journal, 1990, 72-98
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Michał_Sędziwój". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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