Destination Libraries: Biblioteca Palafoxiana

Image Courtesy of Protoplasma Kid/WikimediaCommons
Image Courtesy of Protoplasma Kid/WikimediaCommons

“He who succeeds without books is in an inconsolable darkness, on a mountain without company, on a path without a crosier, in darkness without a guide.”

Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, Bishop of Puebla, Mexico

Image Courtesy of World Monuments Fund
Image Courtesy of World Monuments Fund

Founded in 1646 in Puebla, Mexico; the Biblioteca Palafoxiana was the first public library established in the Americas. The collection contains books and manuscripts ranging from the 15th to the 20th century.

Image Courtesy of Protoplasma Kid via tumblr
Image Courtesy of Protoplasma Kid via tumblr

The Biblioteca Palafoxiana owes its name and foundation to Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, Bishop of Puebla. Palafox y Mendoza donated 5,000 of his own items to the Colegio de San Juan, which was founded by him, on the condition that they be made available to the general public. The Biblioteca Palafoxiana of Puebla is noted for its authenticity and bibliographical wealth, building and bookcases, with more than 41,000 volumes and unique manuscripts.

Image Courtesy of Protoplasma Kid via tumblr
Image Courtesy of Protoplasma Kid via tumblr

Many of its works are of global importance. These include:

  1. Original copies of Hartmann Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), which charts human history according to the Bible in words and more than 2,000 illustrations
  2. Andreas Vesalius’s On the Fabric of the Human Body (1555), a seven-volume tome that revolutionized the study of anatomy with detailed diagrams based on actual observation and dissection
  3. Books printed in Mexico before 1600, including Alonso Molina’s Vocabulary in Castilian and Mexican, essentially the earliest New World dictionary.
Image Courtesy of World Monuments Fund
Image Courtesy of World Monuments Fund

The library is also noteworthy for its sheer beauty. The bookshelves, commissioned by Bishop Francisco Fabián y Fuero in 1773, consist of finely carved cedar, wild sunflower, and ayacahuite, a native white pine.

Image Courtesy of World Monuments Fund
Image Courtesy of World Monuments Fund

A three-story gold altar at the far end of the room features an oil painting of Virgen of Trapani, which is believed to be modeled after the 14th-century sculpture attributed to Italian sculptor Nino Pisano.

Image Courtesy of Museo Biblioteca Palafoxiana
Image Courtesy of Museo Biblioteca Palafoxiana

In 1981, the Mexican government declared the library a historic monument. In 2005, UNESCO added the Biblioteca Palafoxiana to the Memory of the World list, formally recognizing its international significance. In 2010, after five years of work by 30 specialists, the first digital catalog of the library’s complete contents was released; some 3,000 copies of the interactive disk were distributed to other libraries, universities, and research institutions.

Biblioteca Palafoxiana

5 Oriente No. 5, Cetro Histórico

72000 Puebla, Puebla

Tue – Sun: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
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