National treasure: The oldest Latvian-language book in Rīga

A church manual from 1615 is Rīga's earliest preserved printed work in Latvian. Its 360 pages feature gospels, psalms, choral songs along with 100 pictures and illustrations, Andris Vilks, director of the Latvian National Library told Latvian Radio for the strand featuring six books that shaped Latvian letters throughout the centuries.

The book, shaped from three volumes, is one of the most important works in Latvian letters. It's the first book to be printed in Latvian, here in Latvia. The honor of the earliest preserved book in Latvian goes to the Catholic catechism of Petrus Canisius printed in Vilnius in 1585, now located in the Uppsala University Library.

It features the Gospels and epistles, along with Martin Luther's Enchiridion as well as psalms and spiritual songs. The manual is indicative of the first stage of written Latvian, which spanned from the Reformation to the early 19th century.

The first books in Latvian were printed at a time when Catholics and Lutherans were vying for the souls of Latvian peasants. In 1614 the King of Poland forbid Lutheran pastors to preach to Latvian farmers.

The manual was printed at the behest of Rīga's local government by Dutch protestant Niclaes Mollijns, who had undergone two years of apprenticeship at legendary Christophe Plantin's printing house in Antwerp. 

The book is one of Mollijns most sumptuous works, featuring not only pictures but also 41 melodies and luxuriously printed initials.

The outside of the book resonates with both the renaissance and baroque art styles. It was pressed in a reddish black, however the arrangement, print and paper are of a rather bad quality.

There is scant evidence concerning the circulation of the book, which has been preserved in two copies only.

Mollijns printing house in Rīga produced books in Latin, German, Swedish, Finnish and Latvian. Nothing remains of the house on Krāmu st. where the first printing house was located, and it's not known where Mollijns, who died in 1625, is buried.

The book will be on show at the National Library of Latvia exhibition "Book in Latvia", which will be opened August 29.

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