Paean to the First Mexican Saint & the Patron Saint of Mexico

Shipwrecked in Japan & Martyred in Nagasaki

Click thumbnails to open zoomable images.

141. [FELIPE DE JESÚS, SAINT]. MONTES DE OCA, José María (engraver). [MUNIBE, José María de (attributed)]. Breve resumen de la vida y martyrio del inclyto Mexicano, y proto-martyr del Japon, el beato Felipe de Jesus. Añadidas algunas obvioas reflecciones en honor del mismo Heroë esclarecido, y de esta dichosisima Ciudad felize en ser su Patria. Por un eclesiàstico de este Arzobispado, afecto del Santo, quien lo dedica á la exemplarísima, Religiosísima Provincia del Santo Evangelio de esta Ciuded de México. Con las licensias necesarias. Mexico: Impreso en México en la Oficina Madrileña de la Calle de Stô. Domingo y Esquina de Tacuba, año de 1802. [1-2] 3-71 [1, blank] pp., 2 copper-engraved plates in dark sepia ink (see below), a few typographical and wood-engraved text ornaments. 8vo (19.5 x 14.5 cm), full Mexican tree sheep, gilt rules on spine, edges tinted yellow. Spine rubbed, otherwise binding is very fine. A few remains of old paper label removed from front pastedown. Front hinge open but holding; first and last leaves (including title and illustrated half-title) with light staining to blank margins due to adhesive migration when bound. Generally a fine, complete copy, plates in good impressions.


[Engraved half title] [In image] Vida de San Felipe de Jesus Protomartir De Japon y Patron de su Patria Mexico. Se gravo el Año de 1801 [below image] Montes de Oca la invento i grabo en Mexco. Calle de Bautisterio de S. Catalina Mr no. 3. Plate mark: 17.7 x ca. 10.3 cm. Allegorical half-title relating to San Felipe de Jesús’ martyrdom, cherubs beneath an IHS holding spears, palm fronds, roses, and other icons, surmounting a fallen cross with eagle holding a snake in its beak, cactus, etc.

[Plate opposite p. 16] [Below image] El Glorioso Martir S. Felipe de Jesus. Montes de Oca inv. y gravo en Mexico, Calle del Bautisterio de Sta. Catarina M.N.1. Plate mark: 15.5 x 10.7 cm. Full-length portrait of San Felipe de Jesús holding his cross, two spears, and pen, surrounded by many cherubs, one holding a tablet and another with a book.

     First edition of the first American to reach the first stage of sainthood, and the first canonized Mexican saint. Although the work is sometimes dated 1801, there is no known 1801 edition, such copies being dated from the engraved half-title. Beristáin de Souza, Biblioteca Hispano Americana Setentrional (1883), Vol. II, p. 314. Medina, México 9461. Palau 35446. Not in Sabin, Cordier, nor Alt Japan Kat. The poem on p. 16 ends with a comma (the typesetter erred and printed a comma rather than a period). The poem is complete, which comports with Medina’s collation.

     For more on engraver José María Montes de Oca, see the following item herein. Mathes lists the illustrated half-title (La Ilustración en México colonial Register No. 9461). Romero de Terreros Grabados y grabadores en la Nueva España, pp. 500-503(half-title entered on p. 500). Romero de Terreros states that Montes de Oca was first at No. 1, de la calle del Bautisterio de Santa Catarina Mártir, and then moved to No. 3 on the same street. If this is the case, the engraved half-title would have been the second in sequence of the two plates in this work, according to the addresses given on the plates. The watermark on the sheets used to print the text is ABAD within a circle. In the engravings the chain lines are 24 cm apart.

     This work, which Beristain attributes to José María de Munibe, is a biography of San Felipe de Jesús (De Las Casas, Casas Martínez, or Canales Martínez) (1572-1597). According to statements in the licenses and prefaces this work is intended to replace Baltasar de Medina’s 1683 Vida of the Saint, which was first published in Mexico and reprinted in Madrid in 1751, but which according to the statements has become outdated and of no appeal to current readers.
     Carlos Quirino (San Felipe de Jesús: A Mexican Saint in the Philippines)wrote of the Saint:

Mexicans today point with pride to one of their patron saints, Felipe de Jesús, who lived for some years in Manila before landing in Japan. There he was martyred together with Fray Pedro Bautista and others of the Catholic faith. Felipe was the son of Antonio de las Casas and Antonia Martínez. He was born in Mexico City on May 1, 1575. Felipe studied in the local Jesuit school, and at sixteen or seventeen took the novitiate of the Franciscan Order in Puebla. After a year he gave up the habit,—’prompted by the devil’—and was apprenticed by his father to a silversmith to learn the profession.

It was said that a dissolute life had led to his parents shipping Felipe to Manila to get him away from bad companions in Mexico City. Within a year after his arrival in the city that was founded some twenty-six years earlier by Miguel López de Legázpi, he was admitted as a Capuchin in the Franciscan Order in Intramuros. He took the religious surname of ‘de Jesús.’ Felipe de Jesús worked at the convent’s infirmary in Manila, tending to the sick. He took to self-flagellation as a penance for his previous sins. Later he was asked by his parents to return to Mexico in order to be ordained as a priest. On June 12, 1596, he left Cavite aboard one of the galleons that sailed periodically to Acapulco.

Contrary winds of the southwest monsoon blew the ship towards Japan. With a broken rudder and torn sails the passengers sought shelter in a port then called Hurando. As foreigners were not allowed to leave Japan without the emperor’s—in reality the shogun’s—permission. Felipe accompanied a delegation to Meaco (now Tokyo) for that purpose. They were rebuffed. On December 9, 1596, the authorities arrested Felipe together with Fray Pedro Bautista, another friar, and twelve Japanese Christians and took them to Osaka for trial. In vain did the ship’s captain plead that Felipe was not a resident but a passenger in the galleon.

“God will not permit that I be free while my brothers are in jail,” de Jesús is said to have stated. “My fate will be theirs.”

The shogun sentenced them to death in a public execution. As felons, their ears were lopped off, and they were made to walk for nearly a month from Osaka to Nagasaki, the place of execution. The group arrived in Nagasaki on February 5, 1597, and a few days later were shackled to crosses on a hill fronting the bay. Two lances in an X pattern pierced the body of Felipe de Jesús causing instant death. He was twenty-two years of age.

Thirty years later, a Papal bull beatified those who had died as martyrs in Japan, and apocryphal stories began to circulate about them in the Catholic world. It was said that the bodies of the martyrs did not decompose for several months. Soon after their martyrdom columns of fire were reported to have appeared over Nagasaki. A terrible earthquake rocked Japan, destroying many temples and buildings, but leaving the Christian churches intact. It was even claimed that San Felipe appeared before his mother at the time of her death, and that he worked miracles among the Mexican faithful.

It is strange, however, that he was never ordained as a priest. Although permitted to wear the Franciscan habit, he was not admitted even to the minor orders (deacon et al). Was it because Felipe, as a Mexican creole, had Aztec blood in his veins and was therefore ineligible for ordination in Manila? This point has never been explained in the biographies written in Mexico about him.

     For a more recent interpretation of San Felipe de Jesús, see Cornelius Burroughs Conover V, “A Saint in the Empire: Mexico City’s San Felipe de Jesús, 1597-1820” (Thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 2008): “Although San Felipe’s cult was a modest sainthood, his was one of a system of immense significance to colonial peoples, the Spanish Empire and the Catholic Church” (p. 14); “José María Munibe, a cleric of Mexico City, labored to dispel some common perceptions of the creole saint.... Given that the biography immortalized both San Felipe’s virtues and shortcomings, it is difficult to say whether the new publication actually helped the cult. The cleric’s tone, however, was unmistakably one of righteous anger. He saw the criticisms of San Felipe as emblematic of all the barbs directed spitefully at creoles of New Spain. The life of the saint, Munibe explained, proved that people of the Indies were capable of the highest achievements in science, society and grace. Like the rest of the works on San Felipe, a strong sense of creole patriotism lifted the rhetoric. Munibe extolled the ‘incomparable glory of our occidental America’” (p. 294).


Sold. Hammer: $3,200.00; Price Realized: $3,920.00.

Auction 23 Abstracts

Click thumbnails to open zoomable images.

DSRB Home | e-mail: