Melchor Pérez de Soto was a navigator, an architect, and an astrologer. He was born in Cholula, Mexico in 1606 and learned his trade as an architect from his father, Galician born Juan Pérez de Soto. He was appointed architect (obrero mayor) of Mexico City's Cathedral on 18 February 1653. Melchor Pérez de Soto first came to the attention of the Mexican Inquisition in the 1640s, during trials against crypto-Jews, but the Holy Office took no action until December of 1654. He was imprisoned, accused of possessing prohibited books and practicing astrology. After months in solitary confinement, pleading for just one book or a cellmate to keep him company, his jailors placed Diego Zedillo in Pérez de Soto's cell. The following morning, Pérez de Soto was found dead and a bloody rock lay beside Zedillo. Zedillo claimed that Pérez de Soto accosted him during the night, and in the darkness, his hand landed on the rock which he used to defend himself. As a result, we don't know how Pérez de Soto's trial would ultimately be resolved, and Zedillo hung himself in his cell some weeks later.

As was customary, all of Pérez de Soto's property was seized and inventoried at the time of his arrest. As a result, we have a list of the 1,592 books that were in his collection. The collection has been called "one of the finest private collections of books in seventeenth-century Mexico," and it included a number of books that were listed on the Index and ordered to be expurgated or were prohibited in their entirety. This joint exhibit by the John Hay Library and the John Carter Brown Library reconstructs a portion of Melchor Pérez de Soto's library. 

From the entires on the manuscript inventory, it is rarely possible to identify the precise edition that Pérez de Soto owned, and many of the books listed appeared in multiple editions and/or translations. As such, this exhibit includes representative titles, but does not attempt to present the same editions found in Pérez de Soto's library. Labels printed on colored stock indicate books listed on the Index.


This exhibition was curated by Kenneth C. Ward.