IN CHAPTER 59 of Noli Me Tangere, Jose Rizal mentioned a book authored by Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus titled On Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres. The mere mention of the book that caused a seachange in how mankind viewed their place in the universe indicated that colonial Filipinos had knowledge of the book which likewise indicated that the book made the vast intercontinental travel from Europe to the Pacific.

The book, which argues for the heliocentric theory (the sun as the center of the solar system), has fully engrossed professors John Crossley of Monash University, Australia and Regalado Trota Jose of the UST Graduate School.

Now it has been proven that the book was present in colonial Philippines. A copy of Copernicus’ important work has been found in the Heritage Library of the UST Central Library.

According to Crossley, the copy of On Revolutions in the Heritage Library, formerly the Rare Books section, is the only copy found in the Philippines, and is one of the few still existing on Earth.

“There are only 277 known copies of this book in the world and UST has the only one in the country,” Crossley told the Varsitarian.

Crossley and Jose are writing a paper on how the book made it to Manila. Published in 1543, the book might have been accessed by Rizal during his stay in the University since book borrowing schemes back then were very lenient even with old books, according to the researchers.

According to Crossley, On Revolutions reached the University, thanks to two priests– Augustinian Fr. Martin de Rada and secular Fr. Hernando de los Rios. De Rada, who originally held the book, when he came to the Philippines from Mexico in 1565 along with the Augustinians, the first batch of missionaries in Philippine history.

Med alumni donate US $75,000

Crossley said that De Rada died in 1578 near Manila. Jose and Crossley presumed that the book was left in Manila afterwards.

Ten years later, de los Rios, a soldier who eventually became a priest, arrived in Manila. There is no clear evidence on how the book came into his possession although Jose and Crossley theorized that he got the book through connections among church leaders in Manila.

According to Jose, when de los Rios was assigned in Quiapo as a priest, the Dominicans already had an outpost in the same area. Crossley said that one of de los Rios’ books went to the Jesuits while the others, including Copernicus’ On Revolutions, probably went directly to the Dominicans and UST since de los Rios was a friend of Fr. Miguel de Benavides, the founder of UST. Seventeen of the rare books in the Heritage Library have been traced to de los Rios’ collection.

When asked about the implications of their study, Crossley said that studying the past would help in understanding the present.

“I think it is important for us to know where we came from so we would understand the present better,” he said.

At present, Jose and Crossley are reviewing de los Rios’ collection of rare religious and scientific books at the Heritage Library. They plan to write a paper on all 17 books. According to Crossley, the Heritage Library will be looking for more books by de los Rios in its collection.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.