September 12, 2016

"The Ladder of Divine Ascent", First Book Printed in the New World

Casa de Juan Cromberger in Mexico City, the location of the first printing press in the Americas.

In 1539, in exchange for a monopoly on printing and the book trade in the Viceroyalty of New Spain, Seville Printer Juan Cromberger founded the first printing press in America. To undertake this project Giovanni Paoli, a native of Lombardy, and better-known as Juan Pablos, a printer from the "Casa de Juan Cromberger," set up in Mexico City the first documented printing press in the Western Hemisphere under the instructions of Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza. The first book Juan Pablos is said to have published was Breve y más compendiosa doctrina Christiana en lengua Mexicana y Castellana, printing of which was completed on June 12, 1539.

Contemporary authorities refer to a book possibly published first in Mexico titled Escala Espiritual par Illegar al cielo (The Ladder of Divine Ascent), which conceivably could have been printed in 1537 (or 1539 if printed by Juan Pablos), but no copy survived. The reason the Escala does not exist is probably due to the fact that it was exclusively used by the novices of the convent of Santo Domingo.

Below are two of a number of sources that affirm that the The Ladder of Divine Ascent, by St. John Climacus, Abbot of Sinai, was the first book printed in Mexico and the New World generally, under the Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza in the 1530’s.

Detail from p. 270 of The Inland Printer, Volume XXXII, October, 1903 to March, 1904, Chicago, IL.

Detail from p. 239 of Central America and Mexico, Volume 9 of The History of North America by Fortier and Ficklen, Philadelphia, 1907.

Antonio de Mendoza

A copy of Escala from 1562.