Juan de Palafox y Mendoza was archbishop of Puebla from 1640-1655, viceroy of New Spain, is known for defending indigenous Mexican culture during the colonial era. His greatest legacy: the Biblioteca Palafoxiana.
In Puebla, founded the Dominican convent of Santa Ines, the college of San Pedro and San Pablo and the Girls’ School of the Inmaculada Concepcion and boost on completing the Puebla’s Cathedral. But his greatest legacy is undoubtedly the Biblioteca Palafoxiana, founded on September 5, 1646, when he donated 5000 books from his private collection to the seminary of San Juan (Current Casa de Cultura) with the only condition that the books were available for anyone who could read and write. Being the first public library in America. Located in the old school of San Juan, the Biblioteca Palafoxiana preserves 45058 books, mostly dating from before the Independence of Mexico.
Some of his most valuable texts are:
- The nine books of the History of Herodotus, which was printed in 1473
- Include the original copy of Hartmann Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) Which charts human history according to the Bible in words and more than 2,000 illustrations; is distinguished by having several of his prints illuminated by hand, which increases the visual beauty of this work
- The City of God of St. Augustine, 1475
- The Chronicle of Aragon of Fabricio of Vagad
- Andreas Vesalius’s On the Fabric of the Human Body (1555) “De humani corporis fabrica”, a seven-volume tome that revolutionized the study of anatomy with detailed diagrams based on actual observation and dissection
- Alonso Molina’s Vocabulary in Castilian and Mexican, essentially the earliest New World dictionary.
- “Atlas of Ortelius”, authored by Abraham Ortelius, cosmographer and cartographer (1527 – 1598)
- Atlas of Gerardus Mercator
- Don Quixote de Cervantes Saavedra
- Fables of Jean de la Fontaine
Most books and manuscripts of the Biblioteca Palafoxiana are written in dead languages: Hebrew, Latin, Sanskrit, Chaldean and Greek, another part of the collection is written in Nahuatl, and very few pieces can be read in Spanish.
A sign at the library’s entrance bears founder Juan de Palafox y Mendoza’s words from 1646:
“He who finds himself benefiting without books finds himself in solitude without comfort, on a mountain top without company, on a path without a walking stick, in the darkness without a guide. This gave me the desire to leave the library of books I’ve collected since I served his majesty the King, which is one of the best I’ve seen in Spain, ancillary to those of the church and in part and in public form, so that it may be used by all professions and people.”
The Biblioteca Palafoxiana is also known for its great beauty. With a clear baroque and carved walls, their shelves were commissioned by Bishop Francisco Fabian y Fuero in 1773 (expanded to a third level in 1800) are made of finely carved cedar, ayacahuite (a native white pine) and coloyote wood. It also has a gold altarpiece with three floors in one end of the room, which occupies a long arched hallway, where reposes an oil painting of the Virgin of Trapani, from the fourteenth century, attributed to Italian sculptor Nino Pisano, under which reads the phrase “Maria sedes Sapientia” translated “Mary Throne of Wisdom”. The altar is surmounted by a painting of St. Thomas Aquinas and His Holy Spirit.
In the great library door, carved with baroque details, are the shields of the Marquis of Ariza, in memory of the noble title that got Juan de Palafox from his father Don Jaime Palafox and Rebolledo, Marquis of Ariza, and shield Palafox as Bishop of Puebla de los Angeles. Inside is a wooden wheel called facistol, allowing readers to consult several books at once without placing them on a table.
Construction is parallelogram shaped and measures 43 m. by 11.75 m., closed for five high altitude vaults, resting on six arches composite in Doric order.
The floor is of red brick and tiles from Talavera de la Reina, to this fine work of architecture typical of XVI century was called “petatillo”.
Fabian y Fuero also incorporated books of network of Puebla Jesuit schools (Del Espiritu Santo and San Javier) after the expulsion of the order in 1767. In 1772 he gave up his own library and then was added those of the bishops Manuel Fernandez de Santa Cruz and Don Francisco Pablo Vazquez, the Dean of the Cathedral José Francisco Irigoyen and after Reform of President Benito Juárez were annexed the libraries of the poblanos religious schools.
In the center of the library were embedded tables and benches, furniture donated to the early eighteenth century and are a sign of the extraordinary poblana woodwork of the time.
In 1981 Mexico’s government declared the Biblioteca Palafoxiana a historical monument, recognizing its age, originality and artistic value. In 2005, UNESCO inscribed the Biblioteca Palafoxiana in the “Memory of the World Register“.
Location and Opening Hours
The Biblioteca Palafoxiana is located on the second floor of the Casa de la Cultura, 5 Oriente # 5, in the historic center of the Puebla city. Hours: Monday to Friday from 10 am to 5 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm. It should be noted, is not allowed to use cameras inside the library.
On your next trip to Puebla be sure to visit the Biblioteca Palafoxiana. Will amaze you!