Anti-colonialism and religious independence in the Philippines around 1900: Preserving the archival records of the early history of the Iglesia Filipina Independente (EAP855)

Aims and objectives

This project will safeguard the archival records of the pre-history and early history of the Iglesia Filipina Independente (IFI), a Filipino Catholic movement for religious independence from Rome. These records are in a highly vulnerable state in their current condition and are of exceptional historical significance as documents of anti-colonial self-assertion and religious emancipation in Asia at the turn of the century. The archive of the IFI at St Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Quezon City, Metro Manila in the Philippines consists of letters, handwritten book manuscripts, photographs, printed newspapers, books, and booklets. It comprises approximately 80 boxes of archival material, about 40 of which contain the material to be digitised in this project. The dates of this material range from the 1880s to 1940.

The material is kept in the library of St Andrew’s Theological Seminary in an archival collection set up in the middle of the 20th century. However, since there are currently no special precautions being taken for its preservation, the collection is exposed to the heat and humidity of the Philippines, and in particular the early handwritten documents, letters and booklets are falling apart. The local conditions in the Philippines also make the records under threat of destruction by natural disaster or fire. A comprehensive digitisation of the material is the only way to ensure that these important records of the religious history of the Philippines continue to be available to future generations of researchers.

The IFI was founded in August 1902 through the activities of the Filipino intellectual, Isabelo de los Reyes (1864–1938) and the former Catholic priest, Gregorio Aglipay (1860–1940). After the execution of three native priests in the context of the Cavite mutiny in 1872 and the failed Philippine revolution at the end of the 19th century, the schism with Rome was a late result of the longstanding struggle of the Filipino clergy against institutional discrimination and the hegemony of the friars in the Philippines, a conflict that had been going on since the 17th century and had intensified during the second half of the 19th century. The IFI soon became the most important Rome-independent Catholic church in Asia and still exists today, being in full communion with the Union of Utrecht of Old Catholic Churches and the Episcopal Church in the United States. It was founded by a circle of indigenous ilustrados (“Enlightend”), the cosmopolitan and internationally connected class of Philippine intellectuals which first demanded equal treatment under the law and later freedom from Spanish and American colonial domination.

The preservation of this archive is highly significant as a record of the early history of the religious self-assertion of the Filipino elite around 1900 in the context of a changing colonial world. The materials not only document the rich and complex nature of a process of negotiation between the needs of a local elite and the administration of two subsequent colonial powers. Rather, they also document an important part of the early history of transregional and transcontinental interaction between different non-missionary Christian movements in different parts of Asia and are an early sign of a developing pan-Asianism at the turn of the century. In its early period of existence, the IFI attempted to establish contacts with other Christian groups and was itself contacted by other independent Catholic movements in Europe, the USA, and Asia. Among these were the “Independent Catholics of India, Goa, and Ceylon” as well as the Swiss “Old Catholics” in Berne and other non-Roman Catholic movements in the USA.

The materials to be digitised in this major project, therefore, contain the exemplary history of an Asian contribution to the emergence of a transregional and transcontinental indigenous-Christian public sphere around 1900. Their preservation for future researchers will make available a record of the ways in which different local indigenous-Christian elites in distant parts of the world interacted, and the ways in which they were attempting to establish and consolidate themselves as local Christian elites in a global colonial public.

The archive of the University of Santo Tomas will train the current archive staff and two local project team members in archival and digitisation skills. Approximately 12,000 pages will be digitised. The original material will remain at the IFI archives and particularly vulnerable material will be re-housed in more advanced archival storage.

Digital copies will be deposited in the Philippines at St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary, Quezon City; Aglipay Central Theological Seminary, Urdaneta City; Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City; and the University of Santo Tomas, Manila. The British Library and the University of Hamburg will also receive copies.


The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: