Name: DEER Location: nr Old Deer
County: Aberdeen Foundation: 1219 Mother house: Kinloss Relocation: None Founder: William Comyn, earl of Buchan Secularised: 1587 Prominent members: Access: Historic Scotland open to the public
Deer abbey was founded in 1219 by William Comyn,
earl of Buchan. Plans were put in motion in 1214 when William
the General Chapter to
inquire into the suitability of the proposed site and the sufficiency
of the endowment. According to Celtic legend,
a monastery had already been established at this site some centuries
earlier. It is thought that in the last quarter of the sixth century
St. Columcille, his disciple Drostan, and others went from Hy (lona)
into Buchan and established an important missionary centre at
on the banks of the Ugie on lands given him by the chief of the
district. Columcille soon after left the site to continue on his
missionary journeys and left Drostan as abbot of Deer. Drostan
remained at the monastery until his death in c. 606. This monastery
associated with the ninth-century gospel book, known as the Book
of Deer, now in the University Library at Cambridge. The
author was probably a monk at Deer, living some time during the
century. There was still a community of some sort at the site when
William made his own foundation, two miles westward of Columcilles
abbey of Old Deer. The Normans had little sympathy with the
institutions so it is not surprising to find that William granted
the Cistercian monks a portion of the lands of Old Deer, while
rest were appropriated for the maintenance of a parochial church.
A small group of monks may have been present at the site before
the convent arrived from Kinloss in 1219, and it is possible that
some of them had earlier been members of the community at Old
During the mid-sixteenth century the abbey had
a community of between eleven and thirteen monks. In 1561 the
income of the abbey was valued at £2300, a fairly average
figure when compared to the other Cistercian houses in Scotland.
The last abbot, John Innes, resigned in 1543. The following
year Robert Keith, brother of the fourth Earl of Marischal,
became titular abbot of Deer, holding the lands in commendam.
After his death in 1551 the commendatorship passed to Robert Keith,
son of William, the fourth Earl of Marischal. Keith retained his
office over the Reformation period and in 1587 the abbey was erected
a temporal lordship for him, when he took the title of Lord Altrie.
In the following years the abbey fell into decline with much of
the stonework being carried away for use as building materials.
In 1809 the owner, James Ferguson, excavated the site and laid
the ruins. However, much of his work was undone when Admiral Ferguson
built a mausoleum within the area of the church in 1854. In 1930
the site was acquired by the Roman Catholic Church and three years
later was transferred into state care. Excavations re-established
the plan of the church and the conventional buildings. Today the
property is managed by Historic Scotland and includes the reconstructed
footings of the church and the lower parts of the claustral ranges.
The site is open to the public at regular times throughout the