Doctrina Christiana. The first book printed in the Philippines, Manila, 1593. A facsimile of the copy in the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection. With an Introduction by Edwin Wolf. Washington: Library of Congress, 1947.

Doctrina Christiana, Spanish for “Christian Doctrine” or “The Teachings of Christianity,” is believed to be the first book printed in the Philippines in 1593. The present book is a faithful facsimile of the original, of which only one copy is known to exist in the world today, located in the Library of Congress. The present text contains the same contents and has the same dimensions as the original text, though the latter was unbound and made of mulberry paper. 

This 74-page text is written in three languages: Castilian, Tagalog in the native Baybayin characters, and Tagalog transliterated into the Romanized phonetic script. Doctrina Christiana preserves a record of the ancient Baybayin script, which died out of usage during the Spanish colonial period, and its transliteration to the Romanized script still used to this day. In fact, the Tagalog language is so well preserved that the writing in Doctrina Christiana is still intelligible to the modern day native speaker, with a few minor differences: the letter “c” in the book is currently replaced by “k,” some of the “u” letters is now spelled with “w,” and some of the “y” letters is now spelled with “i.” 

The first few pages introduce the Spanish and Tagalog syllabaries. The rest of the contents are prayers and religious doctrine: the Pater Noster (“Our Father”), the Ave Maria (“Hail Mary”), the Credo (“Apostle’s Creed”), the Salve Regina (“Hail Holy Queen”), the Articles of Faith, the Ten Commandments, the Commandments of the Holy Church, the Sacraments of the Holy Church, the Seven Mortal Sins, the Fourteen Works of Charity, Confession, and Catechism. 

The method of printing was xylography, or woodblock printing, so that each page of the text was printed from hand-carved woodblocks. The printer was believed to have been Juan de Vera, a Chinese man and devout Catholic. Modeled after Chinese xylography, printing was adopted to European characters and format that were provided by Spanish books in the Philippines at the time. 

As indicated in the title page, all four Catholic religious orders contributed to the production of Doctrina Christiana, but it was the Dominicans who printed the book. In accordance with royal policy, the book had to be licensed by the Philippine Governor-General, then Gomez Perez Dasmariñas, who sent a copy of it to Spanish King Philip II. 

It is interesting to note that a Chinese Doctrina Christiana was also produced in the Philippines at the same time as the Tagalog version, though no extant copy has yet been found. A similar Doctrina Christiana was also the first book published by the Spanish in the New World, 1539 in Mexico and 1584 in Peru, each in their respective native language. 

Pursued for over 450 years around the globe, the book’s provenance is complex and remains largely incomplete. As the story goes, in 1946 a New York dealer by the name of William H. Schab purchased Doctrina Christiana from a French bookseller and collector in Paris. Upon returning to the United States, Schab sold the book to businessman and book collector Lessing J. Rosenwald, who then bequeathed it to the Library of Congress. The book’s provenance prior to 1946 is unknown – perhaps Schab’s is the same book sent to King Philip II in 1593, but we may never know. Though a few historians contend that Arte y Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala by Juan de Quiñones was instead the first book printed in the Philippines in 1581, no such text has yet surfaced. (JM)