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UST Library holds international exhibit of historical treasures

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By Lito B. Zulueta
First Posted: Philippine Daily Inquirer, 06/14/2010

On show are Copernicus’ 1543 book on the heliocentric theory; the Spanish missionaries’ ‘vocabularios’; the Polyglot Bible; papal bulls granting UST certain powers; and the academic grades of Rizal, Mabini and other founders of the Filipino nation

A UNIVERSITY IS ONLY AS GOOD AS its library. In the case of the 399-year-old University of Santo Tomas, its library and colorful history are fundamentally linked. This can be gleaned from the name of the library itself, UST Miguel de Benavides Central Library: The name pays tribute to the third archbishop of Manila (born 1550) who, before he died in 1605, bequeathed his library and his personal fortune of P1,500 for the establishment of a school for the priesthood. His Dominican confreres were only able to fulfill his will six years later: In 1611, the Colegio de Santissimo Rosario was born, which later became the Colegio de Santo Tomas and the Universidad de Manila, an academia for both ecclesiastical and civil disciplines. Next year, Benavides’ baby will turn 400, the oldest university and the only pontifical university in Asia.

To properly launch the UST Quadricentennial, UST Rector Magnificus Fr. Rolando V. de la Rosa, OP, will open this week the international exhibit, “Lumina Pandit: An Exhibit of Historical Treasures,” at the lobby of its Benavides library.

The exhibit will showcase the rich holdings primarily of the UST Library (especially its rare books section, the Antonio V. del Rosario Heritage Library), as well as of the UST Archives and the UST Museum of Arts and Sciences. Not counting the priceless books, artifacts and memorabilia and their insurance, the cost of mounting the exhibit alone is, according to sources, at least P15 million.

On exhibit will be the first book printed in the Philippines, the “Doctrina Christiana,” printed by the Dominicans in 1593 through a wooden-block press they constructed out of whatever knowledge they had of printing, which was still in its relative infancy in Europe. The printing press has been reconstructed for the exhibit, and the audience will get a first-hand view of the operations of the machine that ushered the Philippine islands into the age of Gutenberg, full literacy, and western civilization.

The “Doctrina Christiana” is a catechism in Spanish that contains, however, the baybayin syllabary of the native Filipinos, proof that the Spanish missionaries did not destroy pre-Hispanic culture but conserved it, if only for practical evangelical reasons. Their missionary interest would extend to learning the native languages themselves, and the UST exhibit would show the various native grammars and dictionaries published through the centuries by the intrepid missionaries, including the respective “Arte de la Lengua” of the Dominican Francisco Blancas de San Jose and the Franciscan Juan de Plasencia.

Also on exhibit is “Librong Pag-aaralan nang Manga Tagalog nang Uicang Castila,” the first printed book written in Tagalog and printed by a native from Bataan, Tomas Pinpin, the “Prince of Tagalog Printers” and the first Filipino author.

Proud possession

Also on exhibit is what is probably the only copy in this part of the world of Nicolaus Copernicus’s “On the Evolution of the Celestial Spheres,” published in 1543. The epochal book was the first to formulate with mathematical precision the heliocentric theory, which supplanted earth from the center of the universe and overturned humanity’s cosmological conceptions.

The book’s presence in the library is notable. According to Leila Maynard and Robert Strong’s Second World War catalogue of rare books from the UST collection: “A book of this kind is extremely interesting and rare for several reasons. In the first place, the great proportion of books printed in the first century after 1450 were reproductions of manuscripts, works by the Church Fathers, or commentaries on theological, philosophical, and legal writings of the ages past. Original and contemporaneous works were printed comparatively rarely. Here we have a first edition of one of the most revolutionary scientific treatises of all time… Such a book would be a proud possession of any library.”

The copy was part of the personal collection of the Spanish soldier and navigator Hernando de los Rios, who later became a secular clergyman and who apparently bequeathed his library to the Dominicans. Several books from his personal library can be found in UST, and there’s likelihood that Jose Rizal, who cites passages from Copernicus’ book in his novel “El Filibusterismo,” had read the same copy back when he was studying in UST in the late 19th century.

Speaking about Rizal, original copies of his firebrand novels will also be exhibited, perhaps a rebuff to the late senator and uber-nationalist Blas Ople’s astounding claim some years back that he had heard it on good authority that UST did not keep the “Noli Me Tangere” and the “Fili” in its shelves. He had heard wrongly, of course. Also on exhibit will be a favorite work of Rizal, Antonio de la Morga’s “Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas.”

Incredibly enough, the exhibit will display the famous Plantin Polyglot Bible, which appeared between 1569 and 1573, published under the auspices of King Philip II of Spain. The Bible is in Hebrew, Syrian, Aramaic, Greek and Latin, and its typographical quality (it was printed in Antwerp) is of the highest quality. When Maynard and Strong found the volumes in the collection of UST during their stay in the UST internment camp, they were astounded: “We believe these to be by far the most valuable books in the possession of the various libraries of the University of Santo Tomas,” they wrote.” We suggest that when communications are again restored, some important library such as that of the Vatican, the British Museum, or the Huntington Library of America be notified that Santo Tomas possesses a set of this Bible so that it may be listed among the copies now known to be extant.”

But the oldest book in the UST library—and presumably the most priceless—is an incunabula (that is, a book printed before 1500). It is Josefo Flavio’s “La Guerra Judaica,” printed in 1492 in Seville and dedicated to Queen Isabella on the year when Columbus discovered America. The book is a Spanish translation of the Jewish historian’s account of the Jewish wars with the Romans where he was a participant.

Also on exhibit are rare archival materials such as the academic grades of Rizal, Apolinario Mabini and other notable alumni of UST, copies of the Act of Foundation of the University, the royal decree that granted UST its royal title in the 18th century, and the papal bulls declaring UST a university and a pontifical institution.

Spreading the light

Curated by Marian Pastor-Roces, the international exhibit will be presented in three different languages—Filipino, English and Spanish. Some sections will also be translated in Ilocano, Waray, Kapampangan and Bicolano. It will employ new media technology for an interactive feel. Overall, it will show the growth of the University and the evolution of the Filipino nation, whose founders were alumni of UST such as Rizal, Mabini and Felipe Agoncillo, amid the challenges of globalization across the centuries.

“Lumina Pandit” means “spreading the light.” “The University spreads the light of knowledge and wisdom,” Fr. Angel Aparicio, OP, UST prefect of libraries, explained.

“It (exhibit) makes a claim that (UST) was an active participant in the creation of the thing we now know as the Philippines,” said Pastor-Roces.

The exhibit is a “journey to look backward,” a way of telling UST’s history through books, said Aparicio. “A sense of history is vital to the nation, and books are the primary medium for a credible past,” he added.

The exhibit is expected to further consolidate UST’s reputation as a national treasure. Earlier this year, the National Museum declared four UST sites—the UST Main Building, the Arch of the Centuries, the UST Ecclesiastical Faculties-Central Seminary-Fathers Residence building, and the UST open grounds—as “National Cultural Treasures.”

Perhaps the UST Library collection should likewise be declared a treasure. After all, for UST to have retained such rich bibliographic and typographical holdings amid the harsh tropical climate (which is unkind to printed materials) and the vicissitudes of history (the Dominicans were able to transfer the UST collection to the new campus in Sampaloc before Intramuros was destroyed during the Second World War), is one for the books. At the least, it’s providential.

If one considers that the Archbishop Benavides’ personal library was the seed that later germinated into UST, one can say that the UST Library is older than the university itself. And the library is a firm foundation on which learning and civilization have been built. UST is a house built on rock, not sand.

“Lumina Pandit: An Exhibit of Historical Treasures” formally opens June 17 at the UST Miguel de Benavides Central Library Building. It runs until January 2011. The exhibit is free for UST students. For non-UST students, fee is P50; for a group of 10 non-UST students, P25 each; and for students from the Dominican Network of Schools, P25. Call 731-3034 and 406-1611 loc. 8234.

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