The shell of Deskford Church, also known as St John's Church, stands in Kirktown of Deskford, a small settlement just off the B9108 some four miles south of Cullen. A minor road loops through the village, if that's not too grand a name for the attractive collection of houses and cottages you find here, and the church stands to one side of the churchyard.
Parking is fairly tight, but having found somewhere to leave your car where it will not be in the way, you pass through the gates into what remains an active graveyard and make your way to the church. En route you pass between a mix of gravestones which appear to date mainly from the 1800s to modern times. There is no obvious sign of the earlier stones you might hope for given the relative antiquity of the church itself.
For the observant the most interesting memorial is an apparently complete wire covered and glass domed immortelle, housing china figures and ornaments. This is a form of memorial found in some Scottish churchyards, though only rarely because of their intrinsic fragility. This one appears to gain additional protection from the elements through its shelter by a leaning gravestone (which, if it fell, would be the end of the immortelle) and the tuft of wiry grass that has grown up around it.
Deskford Church itself comprises a simple oblong with side walls and east and west gables, the one at the western end being topped off with a bellcote. The presence of a chapel on this site was first recorded in 1541. It is unclear whether it served the parish more widely at the time, but it certainly seems to have been the place of worship of the Ogilvys of Deskford and Findlater, whose adjacent seat of power at Deskford Castle was built as a four storey tower house in the early 1500s.
Deskford Castle was largely demolished in the 1830s when the family moved to Cullen House. The church was abandoned and unroofed when the congregation moved to a replacement, built beside the main road south from Cullen in 1872.
The chapel recorded in 1541 appears to have been converted to serve as a parish church dedicated to St John by 1545, though it also remained the main place of worship of the Ogilvy family. It was their involvement in St John's Church which led to the enduring reason to visit it today. Because while the exterior of the church is ordinary and uninspiring, some of the internal features are remarkable.
Chief among them is the sacrament house, which stands against the east end of the north wall of the church. At its simplest, a sacrament house in a pre-Reformation church was a cupboard set within the wall in which the sacrament, the ceremonial bread and wine, could be stored. There was a tradition in parts of Scotland for elaborate decoration of sacrament houses, and the one at Deskford Church is of a type found in a number of places in north-east Scotland.
It stands some 8ft high by 3.5ft wide, and occupies much of the height of the wall. It has been restored fairly recently and is in superb condition as a result. Protection from the elements is afforded by a concrete slab above it, and glass panels in front of it. The latter do have the effect of obscuring detail because of reflections, but it is still possible to admire the quality of the stonework, placed here by the Ogilvys in 1551.
Elsewhere in the church the interior walls are home to a number of other fine stones. One teardrop shaped stone is known as the Ogilvy Monument. It commemorates Walter Ogilvy, a family member who served as minister here before his death on 15 February 1658. Two other full length graveslabs, of contrasting carving styles, are mounted vertically in recesses in the walls. One of these is dated 1717. The other appears to be rather earlier: and though weathered in places also clearly carries that blight of the careless mason, the backward capital "N", in a number of places.