Old print process, new prayer booklets
IN THE NOOKS and little storerooms of what had been left of Naga City’s oldest surviving printing press are remnants of the printing technology used from the mid-15th century to the second half of the 20th century.
But Cecilio Press, the postwar era printing press that has survived to this day in the “Heart of Bicol,” no longer uses letterpress, the old way of printing into the paper medium, but offset printing with films. Nevertheless, the painstaking process of the heavily manual medieval technology is enshrined in each page of the religious booklets preserved for posterity.
Founded by Gaudencio Cecilio in 1949, Cecilio Press, which was built along the old Naga settlement along the riverbank village of Sabang, started printing reading materials, novena booklets, literary pieces, programs and receipts. It composed the texts and arranged inverted letters one by one until the work is done, according to Cecilio’s son, Manuel.
Now 54 and the youngest of 11 siblings, Manuel related that it took one good “composer” one whole day to finish two pages of texts—the equivalent to two short coupon bond papers.
The composer was the one who put in place every letter of a word in every sentence on a composing stick, a strip of wood that was placed inside a square or a rectangular mold, also made of wood, which, in turn, set the desired size of the paper the texts were to be printed on. The mold has a simple mechanism that allowed adjustment to the desirable size of the paper.
The composing sticks were arranged sideways, mimicking the desired lines and spaces of sentences, in which the inverted letters made of metal, also called letterpress, were inserted in slots to make series of words and sentences.
“When all was done with of the texts in the pages, the composed letterpress was mounted on the printing machine called Minerva, which is operated by one worker, putting one page after the other for printing and removing each of it after printing,” Manuel said.
Letterpress printing uses wheel and axle to pace predetermined timing of the plate to print one page at a time. Manuel said colored prints were laborious because they passed three times under the press to get the desired color of layered primary colors.
United by language
But they don’t do the letterpress anymore. What had been left at the printing press are accessories and components of the old-time printing technology and the remaining letterpress in 14, 12 and 10 font sizes in Times Roman. Some molds, cliché plates and the Minerva printing machine were also kept by Manuel.
Kristian S. Cordero, award-winning poet, fiction writer, filmmaker and Bikol cultural worker, described Cecilio Press as “the glorious reminder of postwar era, which is the language and people borne out of typhoon and volcanic eruptions.”
Cordero, who is doing a research on the implications of religious reading materials to the cultural characteristics and psyche of Bicolanos, said the printed materials from Cecilio Press “have ensured that the Bikol language may continue to nourish and feed our souls as inhabitants of this region.”
“These publications, these novenas in Bikol ensure a community gathering. Novenas are not just artifacts of the past. Listen to the communities as they pray to their patrons, and hear the Bikol that is animated by its humble vision of eternity.”
Cordero said the novenas from Cecilio Press and other religious materials made by old-time printing presses had gathered believers in makeshift chapels to be united in faith as Christians and in identity of the Bicolanos.
“The value therefore of these works published by Cecilio Press, strikes our deepest chord: that spirituality is anchored in the language and culture,” he enthused.
In 2014, the city government recognized Cecilio Press for its contribution to the sociocultural development of Naga and declared it a “cultural and historical icon.” It feted the oldest surviving printing press “for being a contributor to the flowering of the Bikol language through the publication and distribution of various literatures, such as novena, devocion, corridor, comedias, prayers and literary pieces all written in Bikol.”
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