The Ernesto de La Torre Villar Collection

The Ernesto de La Torre Villar Collection

Ernesto de la Torre Villar

Ernesto de la Torre Villar, born in Mexico in 1917, was an eminent historian of books and of Mexico; he served as director of the National Library of Mexico for 13 years. From the middle of the last century, he was one of the leading catholic intellectuals of the country. He also founded the chair in Historia de la Civilización Mexicana at the Catholic University of Paris and was a member of the editorial board of Revista de la Facultad de Teologia of Navarra University. Among his publications, it is worth mentioning: La Iglesia en México de la Independencia a la Reforma, Los Guadalupes, Testimonios Guadalupanos, and Album conmemorativo del 450 aniversario de la aparición de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. He died in January 2009.

His private library is important for various reasons. First of all, it is a unique source for contemporary and future historians wishing to retrace the intellectual career of a great personality of the 20th century. We all know that reconstructing an intellectual biography of a scientist or scholar is difficult, owing, in part, to the dispersal of their private libraries.

Given its size and variety, the Ernesto de la Torre Villar Collection can also provide contemporary and future specialists with unique material on the publishing industry in Mexico and, in general, in America throughout the 20th century.

However, the Ernesto De La Torre Villar Collection is important above all for all those interested in the history of republican Mexico and of the conquest and evangelisation of America. The quantity and quality of this Collection is unequalled in Italy and perhaps in Europe. It is worth summarising the items of the collection: Archivos of the presidents of the Republic Benito Juárez and Porfirio Díaz; classics of Mexican political thinking in the 19th century, such as the works by Lucas Alamán, Fray Servando Teresa de Mier; facsimile editions of Ensayo político sobre el Reyno de Nueva España by Alexander von Humboldt, and the Essai sur la géographie de plantes by Humboldt and Bompland (facsimile of the Paris edition of 1805); works that are otherwise difficult to trace, such as Periodismo insurgente, a facsimile anthology of many periodicals published during the Mexican independist process.

A significant part of the Collection consists of chronicles about the conquest, colonisation, and evangelisation of Mexico and America, such as those by Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Diego de Landa, Francisco Cervantes de Salazar, La Historia de Tlaxcala by Muñoz Camargo, and Relación de los ritos antiguos, idolatrías y sacrificios de los indios de la Nueva España by Fray Toribio de Paredes Motolinia (with reproduction of the original manuscripts).

Another substantial part of the collection contains: studies on the Pre-Columbian Maya and Aztec civilisations by leading authors of the 20th century, e.g. Miguel de Leon Portillo, Angel María Garibay, José Alcina Franch; facsimile editions of the most important pre-Cortez codices, such as Codex Borgia, Codex Osuna, El Tonalamatl de la colección de Aubin (an ancient Mexican manuscript kept in the National Library of France, Paris), Codex Colombino, and so on. The collection features other culturally and economically valuable items, such as 18th century editions of the history of the conquest of Mexico, of its population, and development in North America (the then “New Spain”) by Antonio de Solís, published in Venice in 1704, and Obras del ilustrísimo, excelentísimo, y venerable siervo by Dios don Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, published in Madrid in 1762.

Another quantitatively and qualitatively notable part of the Collection is the one regarding the sources of and studies on the history of education, at all levels, in Mexico, as well as the regional history of its educational system.

Last but not least is the section collating sources and guides to the same sources: an extremely rich collection within the collection, of paramount importance in the search of sources for studying Latin America. The items of this section range from Guía del Archivo Histórico Nacional, Repertorio bibliográfico de los archivos mexicanos y de las colecciones diplomáticas fundamentales para la historia de México, to the guide to Archivos franciscanos de México, and to that of Archivos Nahuas, just to give a few examples. The same section features multiple bibliographic periodicals and yearbooks of the leading public libraries of Mexico, such as Bibliografía Mexicana, or Revista de los archivos nacionales, catalogues of private and public libraries and exhibitions, such as Los manuscritos de América en las bibliotecas de España, Guía de las obras en lenguas indígenas existentes en la Biblioteca Nacional, Catálogo de incunables de la Biblioteca Nacional, the catalogue of Colección Lafragua, Catálogo de seudonimos, anagramas, iniciales y otros alias usados por escritores mexicanos y extranjeros que han publicado en México, and other bibliographic directories concerning other American countries.

Hence, for the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, holding the Ernesto de la Torre Villar Collection is an honour, a privilege, and a tribute to a great intellectual and to a great country to which the Athenaeum is particularly linked, because it is in Mexico that the Legion of Christ was founded in 1941. This Collection makes the Library of APRA a point of reference for scholars and researchers interested in Latin America. It is the first reference resource of the Library’s Americanist holdings, not only for teachers and researchers, but also for all students seeking material for their research. It also represents the first step in the project to establish a Faculty of History of the Church in Latin America within our Athenaeum.

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