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Old Deer, Church Of Deer

Church (Period Unassigned), Churchyard (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Old Deer, Church Of Deer

Classification Church (Period Unassigned), Churchyard (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) Old Deer, Old Parish Church

Canmore ID 20560

Site Number NJ94NE 3.01

NGR NJ 97910 47685

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Aberdeenshire
  • Parish Old Deer
  • Former Region Grampian
  • Former District Banff And Buchan
  • Former County Aberdeenshire

Archaeology Notes

NJ94NE 3.01 97910 47685

(NJ 9791 4768) Church of Deer (NR) (Remains of)

OS 25" map (1902)

We had the church dedicated under the name of St Drostane in 1851. I only inferred that probably St Drostane was the Saint of the Parish but nothing certain (regarding this assumption) was known (letter from Dean of Aberdeen, 25 September 81).

Name Book 1870.

This church, dedicated to St Drostan, probably dates from the 15th century, and comprises a nave and chancel, now roofless, but with walls standing to their original height. The walls appear to have been partly rebuilt especially the South wall of the chancel near the East end.

The church probably ooccupies the site of an early Culdee settlement founded by St Columba and St Drostan in AD 580, the predecessor of the Abbey of Deer (NJ94NE 5).

D MacGibbon and T Ross 1896; N K MacLeod 1899.

The church, which does not appear in Bagimond, would appear to have belonged to the abbey of Deer (NJ94NE 5) from its foundation in 1219. However, no definite proof exists until 1256 when, with consent of the abbot, twenty marks from the fruits of the church were assigned as a prebend of Aberdeen Cathedral. Both parsonage and vicarage revenues continued with the abbey, while a parochial chaplain served church, the prebend likewise continuing to be maintained.

I B Cowan 1967.

The ruins of a church as described by MacGibbon and Ross. According to the present minister, it is known locally as the Church of Deer, and there is no definite evidence to indicate a dedication to St Drostan.

Visited by OS (NKB) 17 April 1968.

The monument comprises the remains of the old parish church which lie immediately E of the present parish church in the centre of Old Deer, incorporated into two contiguous walled roofless burial enclosures, separated by the medieval chancel arch. The only surviving parts of the medieval church appear to be the chancel arch itself, the truncated E end of the nave, and some parts of the N and S walls of the chancel.

The nave was 6.2m wide internally and of uncertain length, the W part having been destroyed completely when the parish church was built in 1788-9. Its overall width was probably 8.05m, the same as the present burial enclosure, though it is hard to detect any medieval masonry in the external walls as the facing has been greatly altered by repairs and the insertion into it of a various memorials. The W burial enclosure, of which it now forms part, extends 6.62m E-W, with a W wall 0.6m thick containing the entrance. This enclosure was probably formed in 1892, which is the date at which William Ferguson of Kinmundy erected a memorial against the S wall in memory of his ancestors, the earliest mentioned being James Ferguson of Kinmundy, who died in 1777. Medieval features of the nave that survive in situ include a splayed rounded-arched window in the N wall, and another facing it on the S. Just to the left of the latter is a scalloped piscina, set in a recess enclosed by a trefoil arch; this was probably intended to serve a nave altar placed to the right of the chancel arch. Immediately to the left of the chancel arch is another similar piscina, though less well preserved, indicating the former existence of another nave altar in that position also. To the left of the N window is an aumbry with a segmental-arched head surmounted by a pointed arch containing a cross in circle.

The chancel arch is 2.24m wide and roughly semi-circular, with a broad chamfer on both arrises. On the E face of the wall betwen the nave and the chancel, to the left of the arch and at a level just above its springing (perhaps some 2m above the original floor level) is a blocked door, that would possibly have given access to a rood loft above the nave altars. The chancel was 4.3m wide, though the medieval walls survive only as footings at the W end and in the central part of the S wall where the wall of the E burial encloure appears to retain the original wall-thickness. If one assumes that the form of the chancel is perpetuated more or less in that of the E burial enclosure, it would have been some 10.75m long internally. The burial enclosure itself appears to date from 1731, when James Ferguson of Pitfour erected a fine marble memorial to his wife, Anne Stuart, in the centre of its S wall. A heraldic stone is built into the E wall.

A number of heraldic stones and memorials are built into the external S wall of the W burial enclosure and appear to have been brought here from elsewhere. They include a 17th-century tomb set in an arcosolium with and inscription on the tomb chest, only part of which is now visible above ground; the arch encloses a heraldic stone and another representing a man and a woman identified by the initials AK and GK respectively with the date 1603. Above the arch is another inscription recording:

...]KEI[..]S BALLI[...

...]ANDREA SVMA.IVSTISSIMVS OMN[... (or Andreas vita ?)




OBIERE 1603 16[..] LAVS DEO

This evidently also relates to Andrew Keith and his wife, Gillian (?).

The Old Parish Church is traditionally supposed to have been dedicated to St Drostan, though there appears to be no certain evidence of this. Nor is there any certain evidence that it occupies the site of a monastery established by St Columba and St Drostan in AD 580.

Information from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated May 1997.

Architecture Notes


Old Deer, Cemetery.

Architect: James Beattie and Son.


NMRS F.A.M. MacDonald Collection. 1873 J. Beattie - 2 sheets plans, elevations and sections for Sexton's Lodge.


Geophysical Survey (8 June 2010 - 24 July 2010)

NJ 97901 47675 A geophysical survey was carried out at Old Deer Parish Church and the Glebe, on four days between 8 June and 24 July 2010. The GPR and gradiometry surveys of the interior of the Old Kirk covered 66.5 m², while the GPR survey of the kirkyard and pavement covered 27,855m². The gradiometry survey of the Glebe recreation ground covered 2400m². A previously unrecorded grave and a linear anomaly that may relate to the Old Deer monastic settlement were located in the chancel of the Old Kirk, and a further unmarked grave was found in the Russell mausoleum. No archaeological features were recorded during the survey of the Glebe.

Funder: The Book of Deer Project

Olivia Lelong and Christine Rennie – GUARD

Excavation (2011)

NJ 97910 47685 (church) and NJ 9777 4769 (centre of village) As part of the Book of Deer Project a community excavation opened 14 evaluation trenches in the village of Old Deer to assess the possible survival of remains associated with the early medieval monastery of Deer. The results indicate that a bank regarded as a possible enclosure associated with the early monastery is of probable 19th-century date. Finds of 14th- and 15th-century pottery in test pits in gardens suggest the presence of a settlement associated with the 13th- to 15th-century Old Parish Church. A 2 x 1m excavation within the chancel of the Old Parish Church identified an anomaly, recorded during a previous geophysical survey, as a wall that appeared to predate a floor level associated with the 15th-century chancel arch.

Reports: Aberdeenshire Council SMR, Historic Scotland and RCAHMS

Funder: Book of Deer Project

Murray Archaeological Services Ltd, 2011

Excavation (2 September 2015 - 8 September 2015)

NJ 9821 4755 (Aden Country Park) and NJ 97922 47690 (Old Deer Parish Church) Continuing research, 2–8 September 2015, to find the early monastery of Deer focused activity on two areas. Two trenches were excavated in Aden Country Park investigating the remains of two stone structures by a team of 29 archaeologists, Book of Deer members, students, volunteers and members of Aberdeen Foyer Reach Project, as well as staff and pupils from five local primary schools. Structure 1 is a T-shaped foundation over which stones were rolled to form what appears to be an ad hoc seating area. A large stone ‘platform’ was uncovered. Local folklore suggests that this was an Episcopalian meeting house, and the excavation and associated finds cannot definitively rule out this interpretation.

Following further geophysical survey by Rose Geophysical Consultants, four trenches were excavated on the exterior of Old Deer Parish Church to identify anomalies identified during the survey. The trench locations were limited by the SAM area and also the presence of gravestones and burials which were not disturbed during this work. The trenches revealed mortar spreads which may have been giving the geophysical readings in Trench 3 and a spread of stones in Trench 4 but no archaeological deposits were recorded in the other trenches.

Archive: National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE)

Funder: Book of Deer Project and Aberdeenshire Council

Alison Cameron - Cameron Archaeology

(Source: DES, Volume 16)


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