Visitors to New College Library can’t fail to be impressed by the beautiful stained glass windows which surround the Library Hall. These windows were the gift of Miss Grace Warrack, who worked with the prominent stained glass artist Douglas Strachan to design the windows over a twenty year period.Grace Warrack was born in Edinburgh in 1855, where she grew up worshipping in the new Free Church of Scotland. In 1901 Grace produced an edition of the Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich, which is credited with bringing this work to the notice of the growing academic interest in Christian medieval literature in the early twentieth century.
New College Library holds a copy of this first edition. She went on to publish several other volumes of poetry as a translator and editor which are held in New College Library, including Dal Cor Gentil d’ Italia; Folk Songs from Venetia to Sardinia, with English Renderings (1925), and From Isles of the West to Bethlehem; Pictures, Poetry, Tales, Runes of Pilgrimage and Reception, (1921). This last volume is illustrated with black and white plates of the windows in New College Library. Tipped in to these volumes are letters between Grace and the Librarian of New College Library, demonstrating the relationship that had built up between them.
When the stained glass windows were first conceived, however, the building that is now New College Library was in use as the High Kirk of the Free Church of Scotland. Grace had been impressed by the work of Douglas Strachan, whose work can also be seen in the National War Memorial in Edinburgh, and commissioned him as artist. According to Mitchell Hunter, Grace was closely involved in consultations over the designs, and gave Strachan a specific brief that no images of suffering should be portrayed (presenting a challenge for the window depicting the Crucifixion). It took over twenty years for all of the windows to be completed, by which time the religious landscape of Scotland had shifted with the reunification of the United Free Church with the Church of Scotland. After the congregation of the Free High Kirk moved elsewhere, the building became New College Library, which opened in 1936. Hunter relates that Strachan told him that Grace Warrack “foresaw that the Church would one day become part of the New College in which she had become keenly interested.” The letters in the books Grace left to New College Library bear this out, and add to the lasting legacy of the woman behind the windows.
Magill, K. (2009) Julian of Norwich (1342–C.1416), in The Student’s Companion to the Theologians (ed I. S. Markham), Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Oxford. doi: 10.1002/9781118427170.ch24
THE LATE MISS GRACE H. WARRACK. (1932, Jan 05). The Scotsman (1921-1950) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/docview/480712064?accountid=10673
WARRACK, Grace Harriet’, Who Was Who, online edn, Oxford University Press, 2014 ; [http://www.ukwhoswho.com/view/article/oupww/whowaswho/U218803, accessed 7 March 2018]