Alchemy and Pietism

The historical etching shows a man with glasses and a cap, surrounded by books, reagent bottles and instruments, sitting and working in his laboratory by a fire.

The research of the DFG-funded project focuses on determining the relationship between pietistic religiosity and alchemical practices as well as theoretical adoptions from speculative alchemy at the Halle Orphanage in the 18th century. One core thesis is that the pharmacy and medicine practised there were more closely connected to medical alchemy in the early modern period than previously assumed.

Current DFG-funded research project at the Research Centre

The research project Alchemy and Pietism. Alchemical Practice at the Halle Orphanage in the 18th Century at the Research Centre started in April 2023. Starting from the observation that alchemical practices of medicine production in the 18th century were a crucial basis for the work in the laboratories of the pharmacy and medicine expedition located at the Halle Orphanage, the project researcher Claudia Weiß pursues the question of which concrete alchemical knowledge practices became effective here. In doing so, she examines which basic natural philosophical assumptions from the alchemical tradition influenced the medical views of the Pietists at the Halle Orphanage.

The aim of the project is to subject the extensive pharmacy-historical source corpus in the archive and library of the Francke Foundations – in particular the numerous surviving laboratory reports and alchemical manuscripts – for the first time to an in-depth knowledge-historical analysis with regard to alchemical practice and argumentative embedding in Pietism.

The project processor presented an excerpt of the research project at the colloquium »Neuere Forschungen zur Geschichte der Frühen Neuzeit und Landesgeschichte« at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg on 2 November 2021. The lecture was entitled Alchemy at the Halle Orphanage. Christian Friedrich Richter (1676-1711) – pietist and alchemical practitioner? and dealt with the first head of the medicine expedition and developer of the first in-house Orphanage medicines, which were based on alchemical recipes. The Medication Expedition was the acquiring institution at the Halle Orphanage which was responsible for the development and production as well as the dispatch of the in-house "Waysenhaus-Arzeneyen".


There is cooperation with the research and student project »Matthäus Merian d.Ä. und die Bebilderung der Alchemie um 1600« (»Matthäus Merian the Elder and the Illustration of Alchemy around 1600«) at the Goethe University Frankfurt am Main.

There is also an exchange with the »Netzwerk Alchemie« (»Alchemy Network«), at whose working meeting the project was presented on 27 June 2022 at the Gotha Research Centre.

»Alchemy at the Halle Orphanage« as part of the annual exhibition on the history of medicine of the Francke Foundations 2021

The topic of »Alchemy at the Halle Orphanage« was dedicated a separate exhibition space – embedded in the context of the history of pharmacy and alchemy – as part of the annual exhibition entitled »Healing body and soul. Medicine and Hygiene in the 18th Century«. Under the heading »Substances for Healing – In the Alchemical Laboratory«, central aspects of the topic were presented in four sections: 1. protagonists: the alchemists, 2. the laboratory as a central place of alchemical activity, 3. medicines and recipes, 4. alchemical literature. In the accompanying catalogue to the exhibition the following essay by Claudia Weiß was published: »[V]on der löblichen Kunst Alchymia«. Alchemistische Pharmazie am Halleschen Waisenhaus im 18. Jahrhundert.

The exhibition was flanked by an extensive supporting programme, which included a lecture by the project processor entitled Die Essentia dulcis – das alchemische »Aspirin« des 18. Jahrhunderts. Wirkmechanismen und das Rezept ihres ökonomischen Erfolgs. The focus was on the gold tincture Essentia dulcis, based on the alchemical medicinal tradition, which was produced at the Halle Orphanage in the 18th century and shipped worldwide.

»Alchemy at the Halle Orphanage« as part of the annual exhibition on the history of geology of the Francke Foundations 2020

In her essay »In der Erde liegen die größten Geheimnisse« – Von ›belebten‹ Steinen und Metallen und deren Bedeutung in der alchemistischen Arzneitradition Claudia Weiß explores in the catalogue to the exhitition »Im Steinbruch der Zeit. Erdgeschichten und die Anfänge der Geologie«, among other things, the borrowings that the production of medicines at the Halle Orphanage in the 18th century took from the natural philosophical ideas of alchemy. Knowledge and raw materials (metals, minerals, etc.) from mining and metallurgy played an important role in alchemical laboratory work and medicine and were also indispensable for pharmaceutical-alchemical practices at the Halle Orphanage.

Source edition of three documents from the early days of the Orphanage Pharmacy and Medication Expedition 2017

A selection of three source texts from the early 18th century, all by Christian Friedrich Richter – an important protagonist of pharmaceutical-alchemical work at the Halle Orphanage – was published at the Francke Foundations in 2017:

Christian Friedrich Richter: Von der Apotheke und Artzney-Wesen bey dem Wäysenhause zu Glaucha an Halle. Drei Quellentexte zur Waisenhaus-Apotheke und Medikamenten-Expedition. Mit einer Einführung von Claudia Weiß. Halle 2017 (= Kleine Texte der Franckeschen Stiftungen 17).

Lectures at the Young Researchers' Conference of the Historical Commission for the Study of Pietism and at the Young Urban History Forum 2016

On 20 May and 10 October 2016, the processor of the project spoke on the topic Alchemy and Halle Pietism. Alchemical Influences on the Pharmacy of the Glauchaschen Anstalten in the 18th Century at the Young Researchers' Conference of the Historical Commission for the Study of Pietism and at the Young City History Forum of the Association for Halle City History. As a follow-up to these lectures and to her Master's thesis on the same topic, which was written shortly beforehand, the following essay appeared in »Pietismus und Neuzeit. Ein Jahrbuch zur Geschichte des neueren Protestantismus« (Bd. 43 – 2017): Göttliche Arzneien oder Häresie? Alchemistische Pharmaka am Halleschen Waisenhaus in der ersten Hälfte des 18. Jahrhunderts.