HomeThe Journal of Historyvol. 62 no. 1 (2016)

Doctrina Christiana: National Treasure, World Treasure

John N. Crossley



The oldest long piece of Tagalog writing is also the earliest printed work of the Philippines. The Doctrina Christiana was printed in Manila in 1593 and intended as an aid for priests and friars trying to convert the people of the newly colonized Philippines. It contains the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, Creed and basic articles of the Catholic faith, all presented in three ways: in Spanish, in Tagalog written in Roman letters, and in the indigenous Baybáyin script. It reveals much, not only about the Tagalog language and baybáyin script, but also about the difficulties of communication across cultures and the attitudes of the Spanish friars who composed it. It was printed by a Chinese using woodblocks rather than movable type (which did not arrive in the Philippines till somewhat later). Further, the various religious orders, who were often in competition, cooperated in determining the text. So it required notable cooperation between a number of parties and cultures. Only one copy of this national treasure (now in the Library of Congress), which is a witness to the dramatic changes that occurred in the Philippine Islands when the Spaniards started their colonization, is known. But this is more than a national treasure: it is the Philippine equivalent of the Gutenberg Bible – the first European book ever printed. It belongs in the UNESCO Asia/Pacific Memory of the World Register and in the Memory of the World International Register and the steps and support necessary to achieve this are outlined.