August 17

Catecismo para instrucción de los indios, y de las demás personas que han de ser enseñadas en nuestra Sancta Fe, 1584

Catecismo para instrucción de los indios, y de las demás personas que han de ser enseñadas en nuestra Sancta Fe, 1584

From the press established in Lima, Peru by the Italian printer Antonio Ricardo, there issued on August 17, 1854 the first piece of printing known to have been produced on the South American continent. Ricardo, a native of Turin, ha originally traveled to Mexico City about the year 1570, where he worked occasionally with the printer Pedro Ocharte. From Ocharte he received equipment for the establishment of his own printing office in 1579.

While there was at the time sufficient work to keep several printers busy in Mexico City, there was no press in Lima. This city was already endowed with a university and a Spanish civilization of considerable wealth. Ricardo arrived in the City of Kings in 1580, but he had to wait for a period of four years before the Real Audiencia received permission from the Spanish king to set up a press. The Jesuits were exceedingly anxious to provide devotional books needed in the native languages. Even with this pressure the king required a great deal of information, necessitating involved explanations carried on across vast distances.

The first work which Ricardo undertook when the royal permission was finally granted was a catechism in the Spanish and Quichua and Aymara languages. While this volume was in progress, a royal decree was sent from Spain, requiring prompt action from the Peruvian Real Audiencia. The decree required the dissemination of the papal order of Gregory XIII reforming the Julian calendar. The change had taken place in Europe during October 5 and 15, 1582, but it was April, 1584 before Lima received notification. The decree contained a paragraph which stated: “And because in certain parts of our said Indies, by reason of so great distance, it has not been possible before this to receive the aforementioned order of His Holiness by which ten days are to be dropped from the month of October of the present year, I hereby command and ordain that the chance be made in the following year of 1584, or in the first one in which notice of the foregoing be received, and that this decree embodying the commands of His Holiness be published in said kingdoms: the which we order you to observe and to comply with and to execute . . . so that the aforementioned may come to the notice of everyone and none may plead ignorance thereof we order that this our letter be publicly proclaimed in those cities wherein reside our royal courts and chanceries of the said Indies, and that printed copies of it be distributed in other localities, so that all may be informed and may know what His Holiness has proclaimed.”

The Real Audiencia quickly authorized the printing of the King’s Pragmatica, as it is called. A manuscript annotation which appears on the only known copy of this document, now at the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, Rhode Island, affirms that the decree was published on August 17, 1584. The catechism, which was in in the press when the decree was ordered, was issued at a later date, although there still remains some controversy about which one may be considered to the be first item from the press in South America.

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