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Bridwell Library acquired its collection of nearly 400 Mexican religious imprints under the directorship of Jerry Campbell in the 1980s from the University of California in Los Angeles. The majority of the collection originates from the holdings of Adolph Heinrich Joseph Sutro, a private collector and former mayor of San Francisco who purchased thousands of publications in 1889 from Eufemio Abadiano, the unwilling heir to the Abadiano printing dynasty of Mexico City. The Abadiano family could directly trace its printing legacy back through the most prominent printers of nineteenth century Mexico City all the way to Juan José de Eguiara y Eguren, who founded the Biblioteca Mexicana publishing house in 1753. The family had, therefore, accumulated thousands of periodicals, serials, government publications, and pamphlets spanning over a century of Mexican history. As the Abadiano family and its predecessors were known to be highly religious and conservative, an overwhelming majority of the pamphlets bought by Sutro documented the activities and concerns of the Catholic Church, arguably the most powerful and consistent institution in Mexico from the Conquest in 1521 to the Revolution in 1910.
This collection of printed ephemera, the oldest document of which dates to 1719 and the most recent to 1968, illustrates both the revolutionary changes and the subtle continuities that the Catholic Church of Mexico experienced through this turbulent 250 year period. Within it can be seen the obligations of the Church to the Crown during the colonial period, the challenges to ecclesiastic authority during the independence movement, the bitter disputes between liberals and conservatives during the Reform Era, and the drastic decline of the Church's power in secular matters after the Revolution. The authors contained in the collection represent all levels of the clergy, from archbishops to priests to mendicants, as well as independent citizens and the printers themselves. In addition to the official sermons, pastoral letters, orders of worship, and papal bulls issued by the leaders of the Church, the collection incorporates a wide array of pious hymns, poetry, prayers, catechisms, and devotional exercises, written and widely distributed so that people from every stratum of society could daily partake in religious worship and, in doing so, bring themselves closer to achieving God's salvation. While the works in Bridwell's collection certainly document the complexities of the Mexican Catholic Church's doctrines, politics, and the concerns of those at the top of its hierarchy, these imprints reveal much more about the popular piety of a deeply religious people as it changed over time.