A Tale of Two Readers

The philosopher and theologian John Duns Scotus was a great influence on the Franciscan intellectual tradition, and it shows in the copies of his works that were once property of the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco. The school was founded in 1533 by Franciscans to prepare the children of indigenous elites for priesthood. Though it produced no priests in the 16th century, its students were trained in various subjects—such as rhetoric and philosophy—and were trilingual, being able to read and write in Nahuatl, Spanish, and Latin.

One book contains several annotations in Latin, made in a careful hand, suggesting a reader who was well educated. The annotations run up and down the outer margins, and are even found in the space between the two columns of printed text.

Another Scotus book carries a different kind of inscription, written in a less practiced hand. It reads: “no entiendo la letra por eso no se” (I do not understand these letters, that is why I don’t know). The book’s text is in Latin and was printed in the first part of the 16th century. The Roman typeface is legible to those who know the Latin alphabet, though it features many abbreviations that were in common use in printed books of the early 16th century. It could be that the user of this book was illiterate in Latin, confused by the letterforms of this particular typeface, or unfamiliar with the archaic abbreviations.

A few pages later we find another inscription which appears to be by the same person: “indulgencia a quien leyere esta hoja por sixto 30” ([an] indulgence to whoever reads this leaf by six 30). It seems the reader who cannot understand the letters is announcing that an award awaits whoever can.

Both of these books are bound into a single volume. There is an interesting contrast between the first heavily annotated book–clearly the work of a very eager reader–and the later one, whose user professed their ignorance. When might these works have been brought together?

There is internal evidence to suggest they were bound at the Convento de Santiago Tlatelolco sometime in the mid-18th century. Discarded sheets from another book—Compendio de la vida marabillosa del gloriosissimo Padre S. Francisco de Assis—make up the endpapers and are attached to both from and back covers.[1] This book on the life of Saint Francis was produced by the famed printer Joseph Bernardo de Hogal in Mexico City and it makes sense for it to have been at a Franciscan convent and the site of a famous school. Because Hogal’s book is from 1735, we know that the volume of Duns Scotus books were rebound or repaired at some point after that—over 200 years after the texts within were first published. It’s possible, then, that the annotations were created over a period at least as long, offering some insight not only into how readers engaged with the text but with the language and objects which carried those meanings across time.

Edge title. The illustration was probably copied from a woodcut that illustrates the title page of another edition of Scotus’s works also in the library at the Colegio.

[1] Interestingly, a second volume—also made up of multiple individual works bound together after publication—has printed waste endpapers from the exact some 1735 biography of Saint Francis by Hogal. As of this writing, a third volume with print waste from the same edition of this biography has been located.


Adolph Sutro’s original vision of a public research library in the city of San Francisco can be seen on his bookplate, whose design he personally approved and is used to this day. One gets the feeling that his vision was ill-fated from the start. The first copies struck revealed the plate contained a typo—“vincit” (Latin for conquer) was spelled “vincet.” Sutro and his librarian balked at the error. A bookplate is like a tattoo for books: it’s meant to be permanent. Not a place for typos!

There are other, less conventional marks of ownership. Remembered for the marks he left on the early United States, Thomas Jefferson was also an avid reader and book collector who left a distinct mark in his books. He did not use bookplates, but rather initialed his books by combining a printed letter with his handwritten one.

While revisiting some books in our Mexicana collection, I came across Sebastian Caesar Meneses’s Sugillatio Ingratitudinis. The Sutro copy lacks the title page, so I set about checking to see if the rest of the text was complete. I noticed a mark at the foot of a page:

Then another:

And another: 

All seemingly…

            …in the same position.

Taken individually these may seem like stray marks at first, but I tried reading them together to see if anything coherent emerged:


Sure enough, the letters identify the book’s former owner, Bernardo de Arratia, a Franciscan friar who in 1745 was elected to one of the Order’s highest offices in colonial Mexico. Like Jefferson, Arratia’s ownership mark uses the area of a printed page known as the direction line, whose signature marks and catchwords helped guide the printer and binder in the proper manufacture and assembly of a book. The direction line is read today to learn about a book’s structure, and in this copy also directs readers to one of the book’s previous owners.

A later page is conspicuously autographed, which begs the question: what purpose did the more cryptic version serve?

The Sutro copy is in fact missing a few leaves, as was revealed when compared to digitized copies from the University of Toronto’s Fisher Rare Book Library and the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma. But the playful nature of Arratia’s mark of ownership adds to this copy something unique.

“S. Jacto. O.P.”

The top and bottom edges of Sutro’s copy of Jose Sigüenza’s biography of Saint Jerome (La vida de S. Geronimo dotor de la santa iglesia. Madrid: Tomás Junta, 1595) carry a legible firebrand: “S.Jacto.O.P.” The Catalogo Colectivo de Marcas de Fuego identifies it with the Dominican convent of San Jacinto in Mexico City.[1] Founded in the early 17th century, the convent was a stop on the long route connecting Spain to Asia.

Tatiana Seijas notes in Asian Slaves in Colonial Mexico that “San Jacinto stands apart from other religious institutions for its large number of chino slaves and for the way they were employed.” Seijas continues that their roles were not only “as servants to attend to the traveling men and also to upkeep the rest home,” but also “cultural intermediaries” used for “introducing friars to foreign traditions” (126). Transiting the western-most fringes of the Spanish empire, missionaries studied both books in libraries and the people whose forced labor maintained the facilities. This book, flung through history, remains with us as evidence of these encounters and an embodiment of the workings of empire.

Let’s consider just the book’s covers which are made of vellum, animal skin specially treated to be tough and smooth but still very flexible, perfect for a library whose contents would be at the disposal of many studious but weary travelers. Look closely and just beneath the vellum cover is what appears to be text. Sheets of printed waste—recycled pages from another printed book—have been used as endpapers to protect the main text and attach it to the covers. Whatever text visible on the waste sheets was not meant to be read but only provide support for the physical structure of the book.

If the firebrand tells us that this book was once lodged, literally and figuratively, into colonial Mexican society in a place where European and East Asian cultures mixed, what might we learn about the time and place in which this book circulated by examining the printed waste end papers?

Only fragments of the recycled text are visible. Among vellum’s qualities is its naturally off-white translucence. Shining a light through the rear cover I could see what was pasted down on the other side of the illustration of Saint Augustine. Though barely legible, the page layout told me that it was the title page. The main giveaway was the imprint statement at the bottom, which reads in part:

Viuda de Miguel de Ortega en los Portales de las Flores, 1727

From consulting Jose T. Medina’s Imprenta en Puebla de Los Angeles, 1640-1821, I learned this printer was active in Puebla, Mexico, in the 18th century. The “viuda’s” (widow) name was Manuela Cerezo and she belonged to a prominent family of printers. It was common in Europe and the Americas at this time for widows to carry on the business after her husband’s death. Interestingly, the details of this book, such as place of publication, year, printer, or content—it’s presumably a novena, a sort of guide to devotional practice which became popular in eighteenth century Mexico, dedicated to Saint Augustine—do not match any entries in Medina’s bibliography, nor does any library report holding a complete edition in OCLC’s Worldcat database. These eight pages (of which only 6 can be read unaided) appear to be all that remains of what would have once been a commonplace text.

There are many ways to approach a book. The very legible firebrand contrasts with the novena fragment, which was not meant to be read and whose survival seems almost to be complete chance. By focusing on these two aspects (which are literally on the periphery of the book) we broaden our understanding of the materials, institutions, and practices that supported the circulation of texts in colonial Mexico.

Jose Guerrero, Cataloging & Metadata Librarian, Sutro Library.

[1] The brand is an abbreviation of “San Jacinto Ordinis Praedicatorum [Order of Preachers],” the Latin being the official name of the Dominican Order.

Priest, Poet, Reader, Rebel: The Books of Jose Manuel Sartorio

Jose Manuel Sartorio was a priest in late colonial Mexico.[1] Of humble origins, Sartorio excelled in his studies and was several years in residence at the Colegio de San Ildefonso, a prestigious Jesuit college. His 4,000-volume personal library would have made for a formidable display of his penchant for letters. Some of these are now at Sutro Library, likely from Adolph Sutro’s wholesale purchase in 1889 of the Abadiano bookstore in Mexico City. The Abadianos are known to have trafficked in the literary property of the church and its clergy, on which more later.

Sartorio often signed his books with only his last name. Of course, I didn’t know this was his signature when I first saw it months ago. Searching for the signer’s identity seemed almost futile; it was so little to go on. I did come across a Sartorio in the Library of Congress Name Authority File, but how was I supposed to know they were the same person? The signature appeared in a handful of other books in the following weeks, but nothing made certain a link between the one name I found and the autograph.

When the war for Mexican independence began, Sartorio sided with the insurgents. A popular and influential figure, Sartorio held many administrative positions before and after the war, including a spot on the provisional government which, on September 28, 1821, signed the Act of Independence of the Mexican Empire,[2] the birth of the Mexican state. Sartorio’s is the fourth signature down on the first column.


I forget exactly what led me to seek a digital copy of the Declaration, but I recall the easy joy of recognition when I saw the name and recognized the abbreviated “Manuel” and angled “J” and “S.” With this evidence in hand (or on screen), I can now make more detailed notes, and add the fully authorized name, to records so that a single search in the California State Library’s catalog will find instances where he is listed as “former owner.” There aren’t many yet, but I have every reason to believe more will emerge as I comb Sutro’s collections at which point the list of results will grow. Among Sartorio’s many roles—which include professor, prison chaplain, and college rector—his work for the Spanish courts as a censor of drama, literature, and newspapers make me especially curious about what his personal library contains.

Print secondary sources, like biographies, and digitized primary sources, like the image from Mexico’s Archivo General de la Nación, can help us see anew what before appeared as indiscernible or of little consequence. The books themselves open possibilities for studying print, book, and reading cultures of Mexico in the years prior to, during, and after independence. The Abadianos appraised and sold the libraries of many deceased priests and laypersons, which is likely how they got Sartorio’s books. Several handwritten catalogs made during the appraisal and sale of these collections are available in the Abadiano bookstore records, though one for Sartorio is not to among them. Since there is no finding aid available for this collection (yet) I’ll list them at the end of this post.

Apart from the text, there are many other ways to approach books, but there is only one way to enter Sutro Library—we hope you’ll visit us on the 5th Floor of J. Paul Leonard Library!

Jose Guerrero is Sutro Library’s Cataloging & Metadata Librarian.

Appendix: A list of manuscript catalogs of libraries appraised or sold by Libreria Abadiano, 1826-1843

Ynventario de los Libros que quedan por fallecimiento del Sor. Dr. Dn. Dimas Maldonado. Ano de 1826.

Lista de los libros abaluados por Dn. Jose Lubian con precios tamano y estante en que se hayan. Agosto de 1831. 27 pages.

Todos estos libros qu pertenecian al R. P. Sr. Jose Alcantara he tomado para aplicar por el [?] la 3a parte de su valor en union con la mayor brevedad possible. 3 pages.

Lista de mis libros segun sus materias que formo yo Nicolas Aragon hoi 19 de Agosto de 1836. 11 pages.

——A second list of Aragon’s books made after he died is titled: Lista de los libros que el que subscribe remite a la Sra. Da. Urbana Mendoza, para que se avaluen y vendan con los de la libreria del finado Sr. Cura Dr. Dn. Nicolas Aragon.

Ynbentario general de los libros que se benden y pertenesieron al finado Sor. Dn. Ramon Abarca y es como adentro se esperesan ala letra. 11 pages.

Avaluo de los libros que quedaron por muerte del Sr. D. Jose Maria Picaro, heco por D. Luis Abadiano y este es el borrador de dicho avaluo. 5 pages.

Ynbentario de los libros y muebles pertenicientes al finado P. Dn. Manuel Gutierrez de Teran. 7 pages.

Libros de la testamento del finado R. P. D. Jose Joaquin Ruiz. 10 pages.

Avaluo de los libros que quedaron por fallecimiento del Sr. Lic. D. Manuel Ostia. 9 pages.

Abaluo de los ienes que quedaron por fallecimiento del Sr. Rev. Dn. Fernando Garcia Quintana[?], hecho por el corridor del mismo, Jose Crespo, por nombramiento que hicieron los Sres. […] del Campo, y Rev. D. jose Anto. Aguirre Alvacias testamentarios de mancornas[?] del otro finado, quien los expresa enla forma y manera siguiente. 44 pages.

Lista de los libros que quiedaron por fallecimiento del Sr. Cura de Atotonilco el Chico, Rv. D. Ygnacio Roldan. 4 pages.

Lista de libros de venta, del Sr. Yermo. 12 pages.

Ynventario Avaluo de los libros que pertenecian al finado Sr. L. D. Yo. Espinosa, hehco por Luis Abadiano. 10 pages.


[1] Most of the details of Sartorio’s life are drawn from the biographical entry found in: Pedro Henríquez Ureña, La utopía de América. Edited by Angel Rama and Rafael Gutierrez Girardot. Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1989, pages 193-194.

[2] The photograph below is courtesy of Wikipedia user Hpav7, and can be viewed, along with the text of the Declaration, at: https://es.wikisource.org/wiki/Acta_de_independencia_del_Imperio_Mexicano

“Dad al César lo que es del César”

[The following entry is from guest blogger, Carlos Tapia, a Sutro student volunteer and a student at SF State University majoring in History. He supplied all the text and images that follow.]

“Dad al César lo que es del César, y a Dios lo que es de Dios”. Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s. These words were preached in a sermon delivered by Father Pedro Josef Mendizabal on September 30, 1810 in Queretaro, Mexico.

carlos 1
Title page of Fr. Mendizabal’s sermon

It was delivered just a couple days after Father Miguel Hidalgo’s famous “Cry of Dolores” (El Grito de Dolores), which incited Mexico’s war for independence. However, unlike Hidalgo’s speech for an independent Mexico, Mendizabal’s sermon stressed the need for the suppression of Mexican revolutionaries. While delivering his sermon, Mendizabal wastes no time in vilifying the revolutionary insurgents and reiterates that the people must remain loyal to their faithful king. Although Mendizabal’s stance is from a religious point of view, it nonetheless offers intriguing insight into the relationship between religion and monarchy as well as how faithful the Catholic Church was to King Ferdinand. Thus the words, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”, perfectly summarizes Mendizabal and the Church’s stance on the Mexico’s independence movement.



The beginning paragraphs of Mendizabal’s sermon, which comprise the first reading, is where the majority of his arguments are presented and in my opinion is where my curiosity spiked. Like any religious figure would begin speaking, Mendizabal warns his audience of a grave threat, of people who pretend to be Catholic worshipers but in reality are wolves in sheep clothing. In turn, the people must take up arms, just as the Archangel Michael did, and destroy the enemies of peace. He follows this up by asking the people whose rosette and cockades do the people wear and whose image is featured on the Spanish Medallion? Mendizabal answers, “King Fernando of course, ‘Rey Catolico de España y de las Indias’. Thus give to King Fernando what is his, and to God what is his” (Mendizabal 2). The entirety of Mendizabal’s sermon can be attributed to that specific prayer of Caesar, which again emphasizes the relationship between God and a monarch. Mendizabal asks another question which goes as follows, “Can we, with clarity, become true vassals of Fernando, uphold the rights of his throne, and be true Christians if we follow in the perverse footsteps of Dolores, de Allende, Aldama, Abasolo, and their evil minions? Not for certain, but I will state the answer in my sermon” (2). It is plainly observant that Mandizabal is strongly opposed to the Mexican insurgents and plays on the people’s fear of not being faithful Christians if they were to support such individuals. It also once again stresses the idea that any unlawful acts against the king is a direct act against God. Further on into the first reading, he once again warns the people to, “not be seduced by their promise of false happiness” and calls the named revolutionaries as disciples of the infamous Napoleon (4).


Despite Mendizabal’s outcry against Dolores and other insurgents, he somehow manages to also call for unity through an interesting approach. In a brief section, Mendizabal discusses about the history of Spanish blood ties. He mentions the Gachupin, the Spanish father, grandfather, and uncle born on the opposite side of the ocean. He also mentions the Criollo, the Spanish son, grandson, and nephew born in the New World. By enforcing the shared blood ties, Mandizabal argues that, “other than being true sons of the Church, we are also without doubt equal vassals of Fernando” (5). Mendizabal plays an interesting point regarding race, which to me is unique because it calls for unity between two distinct races that nonetheless share the same blood. He also argues that the two should not murder one another. However, he finishes the first reading by stating that if the people give to God what is God’s, “he’ll take up arms against Allende, Aldama, and the evil minions of Dolores” (6).

In the second sermon, Mendizabal explains how the ten commandments have been violated by the insurgents. The numbering of the commandments mentioned in Mendizabal’s sermon is different compared to today’s but they still mean same. Beginning with the fourth commandment of honoring your father and mother, he applies this concept to not parents born in Europe, but also towards the Spanish Sovereignty and the motherland (7-8). For the fifth commandment, which upholds the divinity of the Creator, Mandizabal argues that the insurgents have seduced those who are ignorant by encouraging ideas that contradict the commandments. Lastly, the seventh commandment that Mendizabal mentions, states that thou shall not steal. For Mendizabal’s argument, he states that the insurgents have stolen the hard sweat and work of the people and have destroyed the rights that they were born with as well as stealing the good and riches of their parents (9). Mendizabal ends his sermon with a prayer to God and calls for victory against Napoleon, to stop those that threaten to destroy the Catholic religion, and calls for peace and tranquility.

Mendizabal’s sermon was a well written transcript in that it discussed the notions between church and state in the 19th century and the racial discussion between the ganchupin and the criollo. Aside from those two discussions, what I personally thought was intriguing was drawing comparison between the American Revolution and the Mexican War for Independence from a religious standpoint. Just as Mendizabal placed heavy emphasis on King Ferdinand’s given authority from God, the same can be said between King Edward III and the Church of England. King Edward III was the head and face of the Church of England, which many colonists, especially those deeply religious, saw that any act of rebellion was an act against the Church and God. That was one revelation that heavily sparked my interest to further delve into Mendizabal’s sermon and explore what similarities and differences did the church play in both American and Mexican independence. Mendizabal’s sermon is one that will catch the attention of anyone interested in notions of religion, government, and race.

–Carlos Tapia, SFSU History undergraduate class of 2019 and student volunteer at Sutro Library

List of References:

Mendizábal y Zubialdea, Pedro Josef de.:
Sermón que en el tercer día del solemne novenario de Nuestra Señora del Pueblito conducida en secreto … /predicó … Pedro Josef de Mendizábal..
   México : Arizpe, [1810].
  11 p. ;  20 cm..

Location Sutro Library ; Vault ; BX816.M6 C65