The Count of St. Germain: A brief history of an immortal

September 29, 2008 Updated: October 5, 2008

Enigmatic and attractive, the young count’s skin seemed not to have experienced the passage of time. He used to move from one place to another every moment, taking with him the great secret of his personality, as captivating as it was mysterious.

Who was the Count of St. Germain, the gifted and charismatic figure of the 18th century lucky enough to find himself in the middle of, or even help shape, various pivotal moments in history? Perhaps even more importantly, was he a real person or simply a fictitious character who managed to cleverly weave himself into reality?

While it’s not clear exactly when or where he was born, St. Germain’s exquisite personality never failed to captivate the courtier in the countless places he visited.  He was lauded as much for the gems of wisdom he dispensed as for the mystery he carried.

Because he refused to discuss such details, the origin, fortune, and civil status of the Count of St. Germain are all unknown. Records of his existence first appear in France in 1758, where he was said to be returning from diplomatic missions in Holland, England, and Germany. His mastery of languages (French, English, Chinese, Arabic, Sanskrit, Italian, and others) and his knowledge of politics, history, arts, poetry, medicine, chemistry, painting, music, and diverse sciences brought him the admiration (or the envy) of a great part of the nobility.

Upon his arrival in Paris, the count was taken in hand by King Louis XV (who allegedly made him a secret agent) and Madame de Pompadour, quickly arousing jealousy among the French aristocracy. His education and elegance were constantly praised by famous personages of the era, such as Casanova, Cagliostro, and the Duke of Choisseul.

Among the particularities of his personality, the count was said to be in a state of permanent youth, though he often quipped he was centuries old. Despite this youthful appearance, he possessed mastery of the piano, violin, and musical composition. He was also an initiate in the art of alchemy and claimed to be able to make gold.

The count’s name has always been associated with occultism and secret societies, and he continues to warrant legendary abilities to this day, awarded with an ever growing list of achievements and historical implausibilities.
The consummate traveler, St. Germain spent most of his days in constant voyage, visiting locales as distant as Turkey, Tibet, Mexico, and throughout the African continent. The whole of Europe was said to be his home.

Another feature of the count’s character was his habit of adopting a new identity with each locale. In Holland he became known as the Count of Surmont; in Belgium as the Marques of Montserrat; in Russia, where he rubbed shoulders with Catherine II, and was named counsel to the Count Alexei Orlov, he became known as General Welldone; in Germany he called himself Crown Prince Rakoczky—but all these identities were discovered to be St. Germain, precipitating his departure.

Other names known for the count include the Marques of Aymar, the Count of Belmar, Count of Soltikov, Major Fraser, Count of Wendome, Count of Monte Cristo, Knight of Schoening, and Zononni.  

Some have wondered if there was a secret meaning attached to his name, as “Saint Germain” didn’t necessarily suggest a location. Others suggest it was an adopted moniker derived from the Latin "Sanctus Germanus," meaning "holy brother."

Death as Well as Life an Enigma

After a charmed life of meeting leaders and dignitaries from around the globe, in 1779 the mysterious count arrived in Eckenförde, Germany, under the guardianship of Prince Carlos of Hesse-Cassel. Some official records say that he passed away in his residence there in the year 1784; however, there is no tombstone in that town bearing his name.

During his stay in Eckenförde, St. Germain would only accept the company of a few individuals, and many believe that he only staged his demise in this German town. Some records indicate that he was nearly 100 years old at this time, though he appeared to be only in his late 40s. Stranger still, a death certificate says he actually died and was buried the same year in Silesia—the current Poland.

In addition to his many achievements, the count is credited with helping to found the United States of America and giving Anton Mesmer the secrets of hypnotism. But his mysterious achievements lived on long past his supposed death. The Count of St. Germain (perhaps not content with the level of confusion in his biography) returned to France again in 1789, radiant and fresh, presenting himself before Queen Marie Antoinette.

From this meeting onward, the history of St. Germain becomes again more confusing. Stories of his purported demise and subsequent post-mortem accomplishments were related by so many people in so many different circumstances that it became impossible to distinguish the truth from the sensational.

Like his birth, and many key details of his life, the count’s death remains a mysterious unknown. Many have even declared that he has never died! In modern times, tales abound that the count (perhaps having found a secret of immortality) had also lived in Ancient Egypt, Imperial Rome, the Middle Ages, and in different regions of modern Europe.

While solid evidence of these claimed events is very scarce (he supposedly posed for a photo with Madame Blavatsky of the Theosophical Society), there are hundreds of historical fantasies afforded to him.

It is said that he inspired Akhenaton and aided in founding a monotheistic religion. He is credited with building the temple of Solomon, and centuries after, founding the Freemasons. Some insist he was born in 1696, as the son of Ferenz Rakoczy II, last king of Transylvania, while others believe he was Christian Rosenkreutz, founder of the Rosicrucians, or even philosopher and scientist Francis Bacon. He is even said to have given secret maps that allowed Christopher Columbus to discover America. Most recently, Richard Chanfray of Paris claimed to be St. Germain in 1972, demonstrating his alchemical abilities on French television.  He committed suicide 11 years later.

To be sure, certain details of the Count’s existence are highly suspect, but who can clearly distinguish the real from the fictitious? And how does he still manage to inspire such intrigue?  Either way, this “immortal” courtier has managed, at the very least, to keep his legend alive.