New College Library Steps Through Time – 23-25 April

Steps Though Time is a project to create a timeline of six display panels to be mounted up the steps into New College Library. This will tell the unique story of New College Library through images of six treasures selected from the library’s rare book, archive and object collections. These images will be set against a timeline of Scottish religious history with an Edinburgh focus.

Students, we want you to help choose the images for the panels! We will be displaying a selection of library treasures over three days in the Funk Reading Room for you to choose from. Continue reading

Given in Good Faith : Making Presbyterian History

If you visit the Given in Good Faith exhibition, currently open at the Centre for Research Collections, you’ll be able to see some of New College Library’s treasures set in the context of the exhibition themes of church history, worship, scripture and science.

For the first of these themes, church history, we chose Special Collections items that demonstrated how New College Library’s historic collections look back to the Free Church of Scotland’s intellectual history and reflect its heritage as a centre of learning for Presbyterian ministry.

Treasures from the Reformation include the first edition of John Calvin (1509-1564)’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. One of New College Library’s iconic items, this guide and inspiration for a new form of Christian life, became a hugely influential work of Protestant theology. Less than a dozen copies of this edition are known to be in existence.

Calvin, Jean. Christiane religionis institutio, totam ferè pietatis summã. Basel: Thomas Platterum & Balthasarem Lasium, 1536. TR.852

Calvin, Jean. Christiane religionis institutio, totam ferè pietatis summã. Basel: Thomas Platterum & Balthasarem Lasium, 1536. TR.852

Continue reading

‘Given in Good Faith’ exhibition opening next week

GiveningoodfaithWe’re very excited about our forthcoming exhibition, Given in Good Faith, which uses some of New College Library’s treasures to explore themes of church history, worship, science and scripture. From its earliest beginnings in 1843, New College Library was not only a working theological library but also a rare book and manuscript library, and many of the treasures on display were donated to the Library. Items on display will include a first edition of the works of Calvin, a Bible said to be owned by Andrew Melville and an illuminated Hebrew manuscript.

The exhibition recognises the contribution of New College alumni Dr Robert Funk, whose gifts over the last ten years have allowed us to secure, develop and discover these collections for new generations of students and scholars.  It runs 5 April-29 July, at the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh Main Library, George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LJ

Christmas is coming at New College Library

We’ve started getting ready for Christmas at New College Library! The Christmas tree is now up in the Funk Reading Room, and we have a display of Christmas carol books from the Hymnology Collections in the entrance to the Library Hall.

The Hymnology Collections grew out of the gift in the 1880s of two thousand hymnbooks from James Thin, the founder of the famous Edinburgh bookshop. This collection has been added to by gift, purchase and the re-organisation of other library books of a similar nature to form the special collection of over five thousand items we have today, which are currently being catalogued online as part of the Funk Donation Projects. Primarily 18th & 19th century printed volumes, the collection covers sacred songs and poetry as well as hymns, including many items intended for children, both for Sunday School and home.

Currently on display we have :

 Hymn 2578Husk, W.H. Songs of the Nativity ; being Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern … London : J.C. Hotten, [1867]. Hymn 2578.



Hymn 2591





Christmas carols, hymns, etc. London : F. Pitman [18–?] Hymn 2591 With music for four voices, tonic sol-fa edition.



Hymn 2129


Hotten, John Camden. A garland of Christmas carols ancient and modern. Including some never before given in any collection. London : J.C. Hotten, 1861. Hymn 2129.  A bookplate marks this item as having come from the original James Thin Collection.





Hymn 2590


A booke of Christmas carols : illuminated from ancient manuscripts in the British Museum. London : Joseph Cundall [1846] Hymn 2590

Cataloguing Christ’s Second Coming

The life of Edward Irving, minister of the National Scotch Church, London .../ Oliphant, Margaret, 1865. New College Library SPecial Collections SHAW 3

The life of Edward Irving, minister of the National Scotch Church, London …/ Oliphant, Margaret, 1865. New College Library Special Collections SHAW 3

We’re delighted that the cataloguing of nearly 500 items held in the Shaw Collection on the Catholic Apostolic Church at New College Library, is now complete.

While further research is required to verify the history of this collection, it may have been put together by P.E. Shaw, author of The Catholic Apostolic Church, sometimes called Irvingite (A Historical Study); New York, 1946.

The Catholic Apostolic Church movement was inspired by Edward Irving, who began his career as a Church of Scotland minister who worked with Thomas Chalmers on his urban ministry projects. Irving moved to London where he became a strikingly popular preacher, predicting that the world was irredeemably evil and that the return of Christ and the end of the world was at hand. His charismatic services included controversial spiritual phenomena such as speaking in tongues.

The collection covers the liturgy, doctrines and government of the Catholic Apostolic Church movement, along with sermons and addresses by prominent figures in the church. This includes items written by eight of the ‘twelve apostles’ who were appointed after Irving’s death in 1835 – Henry Drummond John Bate Cardale, Nicholas Armstrong, Francis Valentine Woodhouse, Henry Dalton, Thomas Carlyle, Francis Sitwell and William Dow.

The Catholic Apostolic Church believed in the imminent second coming of Christ, and the necessity of the restoration of a ‘perfect’ church in preparation for this event.  Missionary activity took the movement to mainland Europe, Canada, and the USA, and the Church claimed 6,000 members in 30 congregations in 1851. In the twentieth century the movement dwindled and eventually fell silent.

The testimony of the Apostles to the ecclesiastical and temporal heads of Christianity : composed in the year 1836. Chicago, Ill. : New Apostolic Church of North America, 1932. New College Library Special Collections Shaw 27.
The testimony of the Apostles to the ecclesiastical and temporal heads of Christianity : composed in the year 1836. Chicago, Ill. : New Apostolic Church of North America, 1932. New College Library Special Collections SHAW 27.

The cataloguing of this collection was made possible by the generous donation of Rev. Dr. Robert Funk.


Oxford Companion to British History

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Lambeth Palace Library Research Guide : The Catholic Apostolic Church Collection

Christine Love-Rodgers, Academic Support Librarian, Divinity, with thanks to Janice Gailani, Funk Projects Cataloguer.

Manuscripts on display for Elizabeth Melville Day

From Monday 16th June to Friday 27th June manuscript work by Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross is on display in New College Library. Two rare examples of early modern women’s writing are displayed together for the first time as part of the events around Elizabeth Melville Day on Saturday 21st June.

Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross, was the first Scotswoman to see her work in print with the publication of her mini-epic ‘Ane Godlie Dreame’ in 1603.

She was the daughter of Sir James Melville of Halhill (1535/6–1617), the diplomat and autobiographer.  Elizabeth was at the centre of a network supporting the exiled and imprisoned Presbyterian ministers, and her strong Calvinist faith is expressed in her writings.

Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections La.III.347

Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections La.III.347

On display is a volume of original letters,  received by the University of Edinburgh in 1878 as part of the David Laing collection.  It contains two holograph letters by Elizabeth to her son James (dated 1625 and 1629), nine to Reverend John Livingstone (eight holographs and one 19th century transcription, dated 1629-32), and one holograph to the Countess of Wigtoun (1630), and is a unique source of information about the poet.

Mss Bru 2, New College Library Special Collections

Mss Bru 2, New College Library Special Collections

This volume is displayed together with the Bruce Manuscripts, from New College Library Special Collections. The Bruce Manuscripts contains twenty nine sermons on Hebrews XI, preached in 1590-91 by Robert Bruce,  Edinburgh minister. In 2002 Dr Jamie Reid-Baxter uncovered nearly 3500 lines of verse attributed to Elizabeth Melville contained in this manuscript.

Dr Joseph Marshall, Rare Books and Manuscripts Librarian & Christine Love-Rodgers, Academic Support Librarian – Divinity

Chinese calligraphy on display at New College Library


Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting. New College Library, Inglis 23.

On display in the New College Library entrance this week is the  beautiful Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting (Inglis 23). This is a classic treatise of calligraphic art on silk, by calligraphers Wen-Yuan T’ang and Chin-Ch’ang in 1682.

This volume is one of the five volume set, bound in silk, which was given to New College Library in 1921 by the Rev. James W. Inglis, Missionary to Manchuria for the United Free Church of Scotland.

New College Library’s Torah Scroll

Torah scroll on display in the Funk Reading Room

Torah scroll on display in the Funk Reading Room

Phylactery, New College Objects Collection

Phylactery, New College Objects Collection

New College Library’s Torah Scroll (Pentateuch) was on display to visitors today in the Funk Reading Room.

Scrolls such as these are an integral part of Jewish communal life, being read in their entirety in a yearly cycle. The portions of the masoretic texts are divided into weekly portions and their reading in communal worship is followed by a set reading from the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible.

This scroll is no longer suitable for ritual use, as it is no longer bound onto its original etzim (rollers) or clothed in its original protective and decorative garments. Some letters are damaged, indicating its non-kosher status. Conservation work was undertaken in 2008 to ensure that the scroll was preserved in an appropriate state for study and teaching, and it received new rollers and new box. The funds for this work were raised by the New College Library Book Sale.

The provenance of the scroll is not known, but it may have come to the Library at the same time as other objects from Jewish religious practice in the New College Library objects collection. These include a phylatctory or tefillin,  a small, black leather cube-shaped case made to contain Torah texts.

From slave trader to ‘Amazing Grace’ – John Newton

[Newton, John] / An authentic narrative of some remarkable and interesting particularas in the life of ********* ... London, 1786.

[Newton, John] / An authentic narrative of some remarkable and interesting particularas in the life of ********* … London, 1786. New College Library Z.1188

Today marks the anniversary of the birth of John Newton, Anglican clergyman and hymn writer. This volume from New College Library’s Special Collections tells his remarkable story. The Authentic narrative of some remarkable and interesting particulars in the life of Mr. Newton describes Newton’s early career as a seaman on a slave trading ship. He experienced  a profound religious conversion, which when he finally took up life on shore led him to become active in evangelical revival. He pursued private studies in Divinity and taught himself Greek, Hebrew and Syriac.

In 1764, the year he was ordained as an Anglican priest, his Authentic Narrative appeared and quickly became a bestseller. Newton’s early life as a seaman slave trader coloured his experiences in later life, when he wrote and campaigned against slavery and is known to have met and advised William Wilberforce. He was a prominent hymn writer, and his legacy lives on today in the well known hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ .

New College Library has this sixth edition, at Z.1188, published in 1786, but it went through ten British and eight American editions before the end of the century. It was quickly translated into several other languages – New College Library also holds a Gaelic edition at Gaelic Coll. 137.


D. Bruce Hindmarsh, ‘Newton, John (1725–1807)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2010 [, accessed 18 July 2013]

Treasures of New College Library : The Longforgan Free Church Ministers Library

Longforgan LibraryThe Longforgan Free Church Ministers Library is a collection of handsomely bound volumes, particularly rich in patristic and theological texts. The rare books in the collection include Knox’s Liturgy (1611), the Babylonian Talmud and Athanasii opera (1600). Each volume is embossed in gold with the distinctive stamp of the Longforgan Library.  It is kept in its own custom made glazed shelving, now housed at the entrance to New College Library and in the David Welsh Reading Room.

The Longforgan Library was originally gifted to the Free Church at Longforgan, Dundee by Mr David Watson, son of the Rev Dr Charles Watson,  who was the owner of Bullionfield Paperworks at Invergowrie. The original deed of gift records that the books were given along with the bookcases and £100 invested in stocks and shares for the library’s upkeep(1). The library that was formally handed over to the Deacons Court at Longforgan Free Church (who acted as trustees) had its own printed catalogue in a bound volume, still in use at New College Library today.  Longforgan2

The next chapter in its history came in 1962  when ownership of the Longforgan Free Church Minister’s Library was transferred to New College Library. The move had been set in motion by the Revd James Torrance (who had been minister at Longforgan) and Professor T.F. Torrance (who was then curator of New College Library) (2).

Last week  we welcomed descendants of David Watson at New College Library, who shared details of the Longforgan Library’s original donor, and who were able to see David Watson’s lasting legacy here. The Longforgan Library is due to be catalogued online as part of the Funk Cataloguing Projects 2012-14.

(1) Gould, Four Churches of Invergowrie.  Dundee : 1997, p. 79

(2) Howard, John. In :  Disruption to Diversity. Edinburgh : 1996, p. 193.