A Catechism in Aztec — First Edition — In an unusual, contemporary Mexican Binding

NAHUATL. Ripalda, Gerónimo de, S.J.(?1536-1618); Paredes, Ignacio de, S.J. (1703-1762?)

Catecismo mexicano / Christianoyotl mexicanemachtiloni

Mexico: la Imprenta de la Bibliotheca Mexicana, 1758


Octavo: 14.2 x 10.2 cm. [17] ff., 170 pp., [1] f. Collation: A-I4, L-Z4, Aa-Cc4, Dd2. With an added engraved plate. There is no signature signed K but text and pagination is continuous. Complete.


An uncommonly attractive and crisp copy of a book of a book often found in poor condition or incomplete. There are some scattered light blemishes and small stains, and a small defect to blank portion of gutter on title, without loss, 6th leaf with similar defect in gutter, affecting a few letters. Bound in an unusual contemporary Mexican sprinkled calf binding, probably by a "provincial" binder. Boards with a single gilt-roll border with small devices at the corners, that tool reused to form a four-part center design on each cover; the gilt-roll used again on the spine to form compartments, one of these compartments with a spine-label. Board edges also with a gilt-roll design; all edges green. Highly unusual patterned endpapers. The engraved portrait of St. Francis Xavier is in fine shape. Woodcut arms on the verso of the Aztec title-page. Contemporary inscription on p. 135, "Per Omnia Secula Seculorum".

The engraving, by the prolific Mexican artist José Benito Ortuño (active 1750-1808), depicts St. Francis Xavier (with halo) preaching to indigenous children who stand adoringly before him. One of the children holds a rosary and kneels in prayer. For the artist, see Romero de Terreros, Grabados y grabadores de Nueva España, pp. 520-522 (this plate cited at p. 520).

This is the first edition of Father Ignacio de Paredes' Nahuatl translation of Father Gerónimo de Ripalda's Spanish-language catechism. Paredes, a criollo hailed as one of the most important Nahuatl scholars of the period, was born in in Libres (Puebla) Mexico in 1703, entered the Society of Jesus in 1722, and was ordained in 1727. He became rector of the Colegio de San Andrés in Mexico City and professor at the Colegio de San Gregorio in 1751. He also authored the important “Promptuario manual mexicano” (1759), a manual for instructing priests and missionaries how to teach Amerindians in their native language of Nahuatl.

Paredes was a Nahuatl purist who sought, in his translation, to adhere to as authentic a form of “classical” Nahuatl as possible, drawing upon the works of those writers of the previous generations “que conservan en su propriedad, y elegancia este fecundo, y elegantissimo Idioma”, men such as Alonso de Molina, Horacio Carochi, Juan de Mijango, and Juan Bautista. "He sacado”, he writes in his introduction, “como de pura fuente, de los mas antiguos, mas classicos, y mas eminentes autores, que fueron en realidad los Cicerones, los Curcios, y Tacitos de esta eloquentissima Lengua.”

Authorized by the Mexican Provincial Council of 1585 as the official version to be used throughout the Archdiocese and Dioceses of Mexico, was also translated into Zapoteca by Francisco Pacheco y Silva ( Mexico, 1687; Puebla, 1689, and Mexico, 1776) and into Mixteca (Puebla, 1719 and 1775). (See Wagner.) Paredes intended his Nahuatl translation for use not only by missionaries and parish priests, but also by the indigenous people of Mexico. In his prologue, Paredes urges the Amerindians to read and learn this catechism. 

Paredes’ catechism was the first translation published under the auspices of the Biblioteca Mexicana, and the translator praises the skill of the typographers who had to contend with setting type in a language that they could not read: “Y con ser la traducción en lengua extraña, y no entendida de los Impresores; y constar esta de dilatadas voces, y sílabas repetidas, con todo, por la misericordia del Señor, no se halla en todo lo escrito [...] errata alguna considerable.”

The engraver:

José Benito Ortuño (active 1750-1808) was responsible for at least 37 engravings over the course of his career but few details of his life are recorded. One episode that is well-documented concerns the Inquistion. “By 1768, Ortuño's print publishing shop was among the firms visited by the Inquisition regarding changes in printing protocols. On July 30, the cleric found the shop on calle de San Hipólito near the Mexico City aqueduct and the Chapel of the Ecce Homo. When he inquired after Ortuño, who he described as an "engraver with the roller press for printing copper plates," a housekeeper told the Inquisitor that neither José Benito nor his wife were available. The pair was, at that moment, involved in a duel. The cleric left instructions that Ortuño present himself on Monday, August 1, 1768 at eight in the morning to hear an important decree regarding prints. The record shows that the engraver arrived at the Inquisition offices sometime on the morning of Wednesday, August 3.”( Kelly Donahue-Wallace, Printmakers in Eighteenth-Century Mexico City)

Garcia Icazbalceta, Lenguas, 56; Viñaza 341; H. de León-Portilla, Tepuztlahcuilolli, 2286; Palau 269110; Medina, Mexico, 4500; De Backer-Sommervogel, VI, 210–211; Sabin 71488; Pilling, Proof-sheets, 2891; Ugarte, Obras escritas en lenguas indigenas de Mexico, 290; Brasseur de Bourbourg, Bibl. Mex.-Guat., pp. 117-188; Brinton Library 3561; Brunet VIII (Supplement II) cols. 485-486; Bulletin of the New York Public Library (1909), “List of Works relating to Mexico”, p. 176; Field 1305; JCB III (1, 1700-1771) #1191; JCB online Indian Languages Database; Leclerc, Bibliotheca Americana (1878) 2334; Sánchez, Doctrina cristiana del Jerónimo de Ripalda 62. Wagner, “Some Bibliographical Notes Concerning Jeronimo de Ripalda’s ‘Catecismo’“ in California Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 4 (December, 1937), pp. 373-375