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Abbey of Deer

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A once famous Scotch monastery. According to the Celtic legend St. Columcille, his disciple Drostan, and others, went from Hy (Iona) into Buchan and established an important missionary centre at Deer on the banks of the Ugie on lands given him by the mormaer or chief of the district whose son he had by his prayers freed of a dangerous illness. This happened probably in the last quarter of the sixth century. Columcille soon after continued his missionary journeys and left Drostan as abbot at Deer. Drostan died here about 606. The legend receives confirmation from the fact that the parish of Aberdour venerated St. Drostan as patron. In later years the Normans had little sympathy with the Celtic institutions, so we find the Earl of Buchan in 1219 founding the Cistercian abbey of New Deer about two miles westward of Columcille's foundation, granting to the new abbey a portion of the lands of Old Deer, the rest going to the maintenance of a parochial church. In 1551 the son of the Earl Marischal succeeded his uncle Robert Keith as titular Abbot of Deer holding the abbey lands in commendam. The flourishing monastery soon fell a prey to the Scottish Reformers. Among its treasures is the venerable document known as the "Book of Deer". This is one of the oldest monuments of Scottish literature, and was ably edited in 1869 for the Spalding Club by its secretary, Dr. John Stuart. It had become known to scholars in 1858 when it was found in the University of Cambridge. It was then also discovered that the university had come into its possession in 1715 among the books of Dr. John Moore, Bishop of Norwich, which had been purchased by George I and presented by him to the university; how Bishop Moore had obtained it is not known. The manuscript is a small, nearly square octavo numbering eighty-six folios of parchment, written on both sides of the leaf in a dark brown ink, in a hand wonderfully clear and legible. The pages had been ruled with a sharp pointed instrument and the letters had been placed under the lines, not on them. It contains the first six chapters of the Gospel of St. Matthew, a part of the fifth chapter of St. Mark, the entire Gospel of St. John, a part of the office for visiting the sick and the Apostles' Creed. The text is from the Latin Vulgate with some peculiarities common to Irish Bible editions, and is written in the well-known minuscule lettering of the Irish scribes; the initial letters were greatly enlarged and ornamented with patches of colour in dragonesque forms, and the pages have ornamental borders. There are also full portraits of the Evangelists. The Book then contains entries in the Gaelic tongue, the most important being that giving an account of the foundation of the Abbey of Deer. The author was probably a member of that community and lived perhaps in the eighth century. He gives no clue to his identity, but signs himself a poor wretch and asks for a blessing. The last document in the Book is a Latin charter from the great and good King David.


MONTALEMBERT, Monks of the West (New York, 1896), II, 53; The irish Ecclesiastical Record (1892), 865; O'HANLON, Lives of the Irish Saints (Dublin, 1875), VI, 389; BELLESHEIM. Gesch. der kath. Kirche in Schottland (Mainz, 1883), I, 193 and passim (tr. HUNTER-BLAIR); JANAUSCHEK, Orig. Cist. (1877), I, 223; SKENE, Celtic Scotland, II.

About this page

APA citation. Mershman, F. (1908). Abbey of Deer. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Mershman, Francis. "Abbey of Deer." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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