Turning the Pages of History at the National Library – Manila Bulletin

The school year has officially started and most students are now back to some form of face-to-face lessons after two years of virtual education. I’m sure it must be exciting for students to see their teachers and friends (and finally meet their virtual classmates in person).

With some semblance of normalcy, libraries are now open to receive visitors and students. Libraries will once again be “alive” with students researching and studying in silence.

Among all the libraries in the Philippines, the National Library of the Philippines stands first. Located along Kalaw Avenue in Ermita, Manila, it houses two of the most important books in our country’s history. These books helped spark historic revolutions in the Philippines and produced countless unsung heroes and leading national heroes we admire today.

Facade of the National Library of the Philippines.

After the public announcement of a special exhibit in time for History Month last August, I was delighted to learn that the National Library of the Philippines is exhibiting the original manuscripts of Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, written by none other than our national hero, Dr José Rizal.

Inside the special exhibition of the National Library, which already ended last August.

On a gloomy afternoon, I parked near the entrance to the National Library and walked to the second floor where the special exhibit was being held. It was the first time I entered the National Library, considered the mother of all libraries in the country. Its history dates back to the establishment of the Museo-Biblioteca de Filipinas (Museum-Library of the Philippines) during the Spanish colonial period, which was once located in Intramuros.

I was delighted to see up close the original manuscripts of what can be called the crown jewels of our National Library. I couldn’t believe I had seen in person what I only read in textbooks and was taught by my history teachers during my student years. Lo and behold, in the middle of the exhibit are the original manuscripts of the book that Dr. Rizal bravely wrote. With these books, he proved that the pen is mightier than the sword.

Original manuscript Noli Me Tangere

It was very fortunate that these original manuscripts were not lost forever unlike other rare Philippine books and collections in the National Library, which burned down when World War II broke out and the city of Manila been ravaged under a carpet of bombs.

The author looking at the various exhibits.

As I went through each exhibit, I also learned that in addition to Dr. Rizal’s original manuscripts, there were also his original letters to Ferdinand Blumentritt, his school documents, and his works of art. There was also a display of the old Holy Bibles used by our new and past presidents at their inauguration. There was also the controversial Murillo Velarde map, the old proclamation of our Constitution from the 18th century, old colonial Philippine coins and banknotes, an old musical piece of the old national anthem, as well as works by literary art by the eminent writer Lope K. Santos, and some old photos.

Before leaving the exhibition, I even had the chance to touch and walk through the replica of Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, a chance that every guest would experience in this special exhibition.

“Seeing an original Noli Me Tangere manuscript up close gave me goosebumps.

This trip was quite special and memorable, especially seeing precious books that shaped the history of our country. The special exhibition of the National Library of the Philippines is part of its 135th anniversary of founding. Although the exhibit is already over, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to visit the library anytime soon. Even if you’re not a student, there’s a lot to see and learn inside a library. Take an afternoon and go to the library, there is a world waiting for you to discover there.

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