Doctrina Christiana en lengua Espanola y tagala, the Philippines

The Spanish ruled the Philippines for 333 years. One of their aims in colonizing the country was to propagate Christianity. And in order to realize this objective, many Spanish missionaries studied, learned, and mastered the Tagalog language which is the native and best language in the islands and eventually they published, Doctrina Christiana en lengua espanola y tagala the very first book printed in 1593. It was a little book of prayers written by Franciscan Friar Juan De Plasencia. He derived its name from the Latin term Doctrina Christiana meaning the “teachings of the church” It was printed in Gothic letters and Tagalog characters on a rice paper. This type of paper is inferior in quality because of its brittleness and without resistance. At that time, rice paper was the only kind that the Filipinos used not only for printing but for all manner of writing.

In fact, Doctrina Christiana has two versions; the first version was the Spanish-Tagalog book which refers to the Doctrina Christiana en lengua espanola y tagala. This book depicts the old writing system called ‘baybayin’ and it also contained the basic belief of the Roman Catholic faith, the Ten Commandments and the customary prayers such as Ave Maria, Credo, and Salve Regina.
On the other hand, the second version was named ‘Wu-chi t’ienchu cheng-chiao chen-chuan shih-lu also known as ‘Shi-lu or Veritable Records’ written in Chinese by Dominican Friar Juan Cobo. It consist of records of authentic tradition of the true faith in the Infinite God, by the religious master Kao-mu Hsien as well as data about plants, animals, astronomy, and geography.

Due to the inexistence of the printing press in the country during that period, the Spaniards brought the arts of printing to the Philippines using ‘Xylography’ or ‘Wood engraving’ method, meaning, each page of text is printed from one wood-block which was carved by hand. Along the inner margins of some pages are vertical lines which were made by the inked edge of the block, and the grain of the wood has caused markings or patterns to appear in the printed portions throughout. As a result thereof, the above-described books were printed in 1593 and were considered as the first products of this method of printing.

There were also other books that have been published before the end of the 16th century but a new approach was used in printing these materials called the ‘Typographic method or movable type of printing’. Most of these writings were on the teachings of the church, some where vocabularies, while the rest were historical. ‘Libro De Nuestra Senora Del Rosario en lengua y letra de Filipinas’ published in 1602 and ‘Libro de los Cuatro Postrimerias del Hombre’ published in 1604, both works written by Dominican Friar Francisco Blancas De San Jose and were considered as the first books printed using the movable type approach. Philippine literary works did not stop here. As a matter of fact, thousands of titles of books have been created and published from 1593 up to the present time in the Philippines resulting to the improvement and development of the printing system and publication industry of the country.

Due to these evangelical works of the Spanish missionaries, these first books particularly ‘Doctrina Christiana’ were printed and had been an integral part of Philippine history thus our beloved land became ‘the only Christian country in the Far East’.

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