The document apparently fell into the hands of his family after the French Revolution of 1789. The last monk forced to flee the abbey because of the Revolution gave a member of Alexandre’s family a number of what he considered to be the most precious books. They had been kept in the family ever since without arousing the slightest curiosity.
Nobody other than Alexandre Le Grand, a member of an old Fécamp family and an expert in alcohols, could have been more suitably chosen to turn his attention to and to decode the enigmas of the strange volume that he discovered in 1863.The book, a manuscript dated 1510, included nearly 200 pages written in Gothic script by a monk by the name of Vincelli. The work dealt mainly with a serious study of hermeticism and alchemy, covering the search for the Philosopher’s Stone, the transmutation of metals and the panacea.As an extremely erudite monk, he was by all accounts an expert in the study of hermetic philosophy, which originated from the doctrines of Hermes Trismegistus. Hermeticism focuses above all on the deepest and most essential aspects of the human soul. It combines both means of access to an occult knowledge of the profound nature of the human constitution and a transcendent vision of the relationship of man with the visible and invisible universe. Hermeticists seek out the secret pathways of a lost science.
Alchemy was one of the ways enabling monks to reach a higher level of knowledge. Vincelli was not apparently an expert in herbalism but more an alchemist.
Plants and distillation techniques were scarcely a secret for Vincelli. By all accounts he crafted several recipes, including one based on local medicinal plants, enhanced by oriental spices, which became famous throughout the region. For almost three centuries, the Benedictines produced the famous elixir of Friar Bernardo, but this was interrupted by the French Revolution in 1789.
Those events swept away everything in their path including Vincelli’s precious recipe which, had it not benefited from a strange set of circumstances, may well have disappeared for ever.
Alexandre Le Grand was intrigued by the work, especially by the recipe for a mysterious and curious elixir composed of twenty seven plants and spices.
Despite his knowledge of distillation and spirits, it took our wine merchant practically a year to decipher and unravel the secret of the proportions and mixes. After several attempts, Alexandre Le Grand succeeded in reconstituting Vincelli’s recipe that he carefully transcribed into a book.
From the Superior of the Benedictine order in Rome, Alexandre Le Grand obtained the right to use the name and the coat of arms of the Benedictine Abbey in Fécamp. In tribute to Dom Bernardo Vincelli he called his liqueur BÉNÉDICTINE.
He also chose to keep the indication D.O.M., the motto of the Benedictines standing for Deo Optimo Maximo (God infinitely good, infinitely great). It also refers to the Latin word Dominus (Master) given to Benedictine abbots.
In 1884, J-K Huysmans, in his novel « A Rebours », described at some length the bottle of Bénédictine: « Draped in its abbatial robes, signed with a cross and the ecclesiastic initials D.O.M., bound in its parchments and ligatures like an authentic charter, there lies a saffron coloured liqueur of exquisite finesse. »
Alexandre Le Grand ordered a very special glass bottle for his Bénédictine: unassuming but generous, well-proportioned and elegantly decorated, its very shape is so unusual that in the hands of artists, painters or writers it becomes a source of inspiration.
Bénédictine captivates artists and painters in particular. It can be found represented in works as different as a « Still Life » by Wesley Webber, « La chandelle rose » by Rousseau or in another « Still Life » by Paul Gauguin. Even Marcel Duchamp, the father of contemporary art, alludes to it in his major work « La mariée mise à nue par ses célibataires, même ».
Between the 12th and 17th Centuries, monks in all the Western European countries invented numerous elixirs. They had the necessary knowledge, technique, plants and spices. One of them stood out in particular, Dom Bernardo Vincelli, who could never have imagined the destiny of his elixir.
As a monk in the Benedictine order, Vincelli was apparently living at Monte Cassino when, in 1505, he was sent to Normandy with other Italian friars.
The story goes that one day in 1863, in the process of sorting out some very old family papers, a wine merchant in F écamp, with the evocative name of Alexandre Le Grand, came across an old recipe book that has been tucked away in his library for years.