Finding What Was Left Behind

Three months after the commencement of the 1762 Archive project, Prof Christina Lee and  Dr Cristina Juan travelled to Manila to officially launch the project in June of 2022. The trip had a number of purposes, but one of the most important  was  to find out if there were any manuscripts or pre-1762printed books that may have been left behind at the San Agustin Library after the 1762 British invasion. 

Working off of the testimony of Agustin Maria de Castro (1740-1801), the librarian of the Biblioteca de San Agustin during the attack in 1762, it would seem like  we would not find anything. According to the despairing librarian, when the religious order  was able to reoccupy the convent in 1765,  there was “not even a wooden bench on which to sit nor a nail in the wall on which to hang the hat. ” (Montero, 1894, Volume II: 55-57).

Father Ricky Villar, the current Director of the San Agustin Museum and Library assured us that  there was nothing of value left, but said there were some “old materials”  in the church’s storage room.  We begged him to allow us to go down there and “just see.”  He finally relented and told us to come back the following morning, warning us to be ready to meet copious amounts of dust and mites.

When we got to the Convent bright and early, three to four church helpers were bringing out crate upon plastic crate of mixed materials. We went through no less than forty, all overflowing with newspaper clips, contemporary theological journals and some early printed educational materials. And then there were the leather bound books and volumes covered in vellum all mixed in.  Some manuscripts. 

All in all, we separated  57 volumes that were very likely part of the library as it stood before its dispersal in 1762.  Most of the ones we separated had the  bookplate of the San Agustin Library from the period. We also found personal copies of books – some bearing Archbishop Rojo’s bookplate and signature. It was interesting to note that a significant number of materials from the period had bookplates from different provinces  outside of Manila – including those that came from Cebu and Iloilo. We know from the librarian’s  account that he made   various attempts  to “restock” their empty  library by getting book donations and exchanges from the provinces were the Agustinian order had convents and were left relatively unscathed by the British occupation. We took great care to separate these materials from the pile of materials we believe were left behind from the ransack.

An additional step we took for verifying the material was whether  it was mentioned in the Inventarium. The inventory is a catalogue of the Library, recording about 1,500 titles, mainly theological and ecclesiastical works, first by shelf position, then alphabetically, with notes of additions to May, 1762. In this case, (Figure 3), we see that the  volume we found in one of the crates matched the inventory – and was shelved in Caxon 13, Estante 2.

With these new found materials, the 1762 archive project is now scanning and cataloguing them  to add to the virtual reconstruction of the 1762 library. With some funding for equipment, the project has donated to the San AGustin library  a IIIF ready high resolution scanner. We will continue with the digitization and cataloguing of the materials, and also setting up the processes for transcription and translation in the coming months.

A few more photos from our exciting adventure: