The first ever book to be printed in Spain

When Cristino Valverde del Barro (1887-1957) found the Sinodal of Aguilafuente in the Segovia Cathedral, he knew he had come across something big. Something important. In fact, he wrote the following statement: “this incunabulum will be a subject of dispute, and perhaps it will determine (…) in the province of Segovia what is the first ever book to have been printed in Spain as far as we know”. And he was right. The book had been long lost, but in the early 20th century it was verified that the Sinodal of Aguilafuente was a recollection of Segovia’s diocesan synod.

Cristino Valverde del Barro deserves some acknowledgment for that. In his Cathalogue of Incunabula and Rare Books of the Segovia Cathedral, published in 1930, he listed more than 500 inconabula, providing precise and thorough descriptions of each of them; this was the first time in centuries that the Sinodal of Aguilafuente was mentioned in a book.

How the Sinodal came into existance

An open old book with blank pages

The Sinodal of Aguilafuente was the first non-literary book to be printed in Spain. | Shutterstock

1472, the province of Segovia. Juan Arias Dávila, the city’s bishop, summoned a synod —an assembly of the clergy in a diocese— to discuss various ecclesiastic matters. Arias Dávila was particularly interested in developing and renewing the methodology of education, both for the clergy and the common people. This was the main incentive behind his promoting the printing press.

Back then, Segovia was an active city, home to the Court, with a remarkable industrial development as well. That’s when the first printer, Juan Párix, arrived at Spain. He came from Rome, where the printing press was at the entire service of the Church. Arias Dávila, who was fully aware of that, called for Párix and came up with an editorial plan: to print religious texts, as well as other works of legal and canonical nature, that would contribute to the clergy’s education.

This is how it came to be the Sinodal of Aguilafuente, a book recording the details of the synod assembled in Aguilafuente in the first half of June 1472. 85 men attended the meeting, and although most of them belonged to the clergy, there were some laymen too. Therefore, this incunabulum is a detailed chronicle of the situation of the mid-15th century diocese.

This is the first ever book printed in Spain

Some people in a stage in front of a cathedral, dressed in medieval clothing

Theatre play of the Sinodal in Aguilafuente, 2015. | Ángel Luis Alfaro, Wikimedia

The Sinodal of Aguilafuente has no cover or title in it, hence it has always been referred to in relation to its content. It’s a small book, with only 48 pages, and 28 lines in each of them. The synod decided to leave 14 blank pages in case they needed to add further notes. It was written in roman type, something Juan Párix brought from Rome. The first Spanish incunabula followed this rule. Nowadays only remains one of them, kept in the museum of the Segovia Cathedral, but it’s widely known that there were more of them.

Segovia is very proud of this historical landmark, which they keep celebrating every year in Aguilafuente. Since 2003, every first weekend of August the town honours this synod that made history. Different cultural events take place then, such as the staging of the very conclave, among other theatre plays related to the printing press.

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