Architect in the guise of Thomas-the-Apostle.
If our Alchemist was pulling his beard,
it would be because he and the grotesques surrounding him
on the tower balustrades of Notre-Dame, Paris,
were not actually mediaeval statuary at all,
but nineteenth-century restorations.
Charged with the task of renovation, in eighteen-hundred-and-forty-four,
Eugene Viollet-le-Duc, found only the stumps
of claws and talons on the tower corners
but with the help of a body of stonemasons
he set about re-envisioning the cathedral’s mediaeval past…
They did a pretty good job!
If our Alchemist was tugging at his beard,
it was doubtless because
he was not an alchemist at all,
but the wandering jew, Ahaservus,
as some have made claim, doomed to wander
the annals of time forever in search of his messiah…
But, well, really, our ‘Violet Duke’
had put enough occult blinds in his work
to obscure the Christ Spirit itself,
though that was far from his intent…
And if our Alchemist was stroking his beard?
If he was stroking his beard he too would be
contemplating the prospect of statuary which
had been spread out before him but apparently
just out of both reach and gaze of scrutiny.
The restoration undertaken by Viollet-le-Duc
included a reconstruction of the cathedral’s central spire
which had been dismantled in seventeen-hundred-and-ninety-two,
and repair of the angelic horn-blower which topped the apex of the nave.
The spire he made octagonal and along four of its edges,
he placed copper-statues
of the Evangelists, and the Twelve Apostles.
Instead of Judas Iscariot, though, he included a self-portrait,
in the guise of Thomas-the-Apostle.
Unlike all the other figures who faced outwards
and looked far and wide to the horizons of Paris
Viollet-le-Duc faced the spire and looked up to the heavens.
Except, he appeared to have his eyes closed,
and raised an uncertain hand to his forehead in a gesture of concern.
Was he straining to hear something indistinct from above?
Had he just been struck by an omission of extreme importance?
Or was this merely Thomas-the-Apostle in the throes of his doubt?