The University of Santo Tomas Publishing HouseThe World's Oldest Press - Tried and Tested By Centuries of Commitment
The University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, formerly the UST Press, is probably the oldest continuing press in the world today. A historical marker in Spanish put up by the National Historical Institute in the old printing press building in 1940 called it "one of the oldest existing … in the world." The Pacific War was shortly to explode after that but the vicissitudes of war and the vagaries of fate did not stop the press from churning out publication after publication. Writing in 1991, the respected Dominican historian and archivist Fidel Villaroel said that the UST Press is "a printing press that has never closed for one day, until our day… No other press in the world has survived 366 years, or 389 years, if we start counting from 1602." The friar called the press’ resilience as something worthy of the Guinness Book of World Records.
The longevity of the UST Publishing House can be better appreciated if one considers that it is even older than UST, antedating by nine years the establishment in 1611 of what was to become Asia’s oldest university.
In 1593, the Dominicans pioneered printing in the Philippines by producing through the old technique of xylography (wooden block) the first books ever to be published in the islands: the famous Doctrina Cristiana, a catechism in Tagalog, Spanish, and the ancient Tagalog alphabet called baybayin, and Shih-Lu (Apologia de la Verdadera Religion), a catechism for the Chinese in the Philippines (a replica of the wooden block printing press is exhibited at the UST Museum of Arts & Sciences).
Nearly ten years later, in 1602, the Dominican Blancas de San Jose together with a Chinese convert in Binondo succeeded in making molds, types and instruments needed for typography, the conventional printing by movable type; thus, typographic printing in the Philippines was really indigenous, not imported from other countries. Wenceslao Retana hailed it as "the semi-invention" of the press in the country.
The indigenous machine made the rounds of Dominican missions on the plains of Luzon. In Bataan, Fray de San Jose published his famous Arte y Reglas de la Lengua Tagala with no less than Tomas Pinpin, the "Prince of Filipino Printers," as printer. In 1625, the press wound up at the Colegio de Santo Tomas, soon to become a university, and had since been known as the UST Press. It published Diego Aduarte’s Historia de la Provincia del Santo Rosario de Filipinas (that is, the Dominican Missions in the Far East), widely considered to be the best printed book of the 17th century and the last of the incunabulas, and the classic book by the Augustinian Manuel Blanco, Flora en Filipinas, consisting of four big volumes with 479 plates, half of them in splendid color lithographs (a copy of the colossal publishing project is preserved in the Rare Books Section of the UST Central Library).
Through the centuries, the press has published a host of religious, devotional and scholarly titles; there was even a time when the press published 150 titles written by the University’s faculty members and alumni. It is safe to say the press has contributed to the country’s intellectual and cultural progress by consistently producing publications of high quality mirroring the University’s goal of promoting a dialogue between faith and reason, so as to integrate knowledge about man, nature and God.
In 1996, the UST Press was renamed UST Publishing House.
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