Our colleague Dr Barry Taylor reports:
Although the British Library has important collections of books from colonial Latin America, including the earliest extant book printed in the Americas, Zumárraga’s Dotrina breve de las cosas que pertenecen a la fe catholica (Mexico, 1543/44, BL shelfmark C.37.e.8), such books are now all too often prohibitively expensive for us to acquire. The recent acquisition of two seventeenth-century Mexican imprints is therefore particularly noteworthy.
Esteban García, El máximo limosnero, mayor padre de pobres, grande arçobispo de Valencia, provincial de la Andaluzia, Castilla, y Nueva-España, de la orden de san Augustin, S. Thomas de Villanueva… (México: por la viuda de Bernardo Calderón, 1657). , 95 leaves. BL shelfmark RB.23.a.35577.
St Thomas of Vilanova (1487 or 88 – 1555) was beatified in 1618 and canonised on 1 November 1658. His hagiographer seems to have anticipated this by calling him ‘Saint’ in 1657. It was not uncommon for the supporters of candidates for sainthood to anticipate the official canonisation: Duarte Pacheco’s Epitome da vida apostolica, e milagres de S. Thomas de Villa Nova appeared in 1629 (BL shelfmark: 1578/1091).
St Thomas was a notable professor of theology and preacher in Spain. He seems never to have visited America but sent friars of his order to evangelise in Mexico in 1533 and in 1547 he ordained Luis Beltrán, the future American missionary.
A further interest of both these new acquisitions is that it they are the work of women printers. Most women who became printers at this period, in Europe and in the Americas, did so by taking over their husband’s business on his death. Paula de Benavides and her husband Bernardo Calderón founded a press in Mexico City in 1631; widowed with six children, she took over the business in 1641 and died in 1684.
García’s book was also read by women, as it once belonged to the ‘Convento Antiguo de Carmelitas Descalsa [sic] de Nuestro Padre Señor San Joseph’ in Mexico City (inscription on reverse of title page). Saints’ lives were the recommended reading of the godly, and were contrasted with the romances of chivalry.
If we might see García’s book as aimed at the reader at home, our second acquisition, like so many of the books printed in the Americas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, is a reference work for clerics spreading the faith.
Clemente de Ledesma, Compendio del Despertador de noticias de los Santos Sacramentos (México: por Doña María de Benavides, 1695). , 368, 32 pages. BL shelfmark RB.23.a.35576.
This is one of a series of manuals by the Franciscan Ledesma. He published his Despertador de noticias de los Santos Sacramentos in 1695. The present work was published in the same year. The Despertador de noticias theologicas morales followed in 1698; and in 1699 the Despertador republicano, que por las letras del A.B.C. compendia los dos compendios del primero, y segundo tomo del despertador de noticias theologicas morales. (The BL has the second edition: Mexico: por Doña Maria de Benavides Viuda de Juan de Ribera, 1700; BL, 4402.n.32). Each of these works claims to be a compendium of its predecessors.
Heiress of Paula Benavides and widow of the printer Juan de Ribera, María de Benavides began her printing career in 1685 and is recorded as late as 1700.
See: Barry Taylor and Geoffrey West, ‘Libros religiosos coloniales de la British Library: libros impresos en México, Perú, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador y Guatemala, 1543/4-1800’, Redial, 8-9 (1997-98 ), 69-92. Also available on the British Library’s website here.