Full Report for Listed Buildings

Summary Description of a Listed Buildings

Reference Number
Building Number
Date of Designation
Date of Amendment
Name of Property
Strata Florida Abbey ruins  


Unitary Authority
Ystrad Fflur  
Ystrad Meurig  
Strata Florida/Ystrad Fflur  
Street Side
Situated about 1.5 km E of Pontrhydfendigaid on Abbey Road.  


Broad Class
Religious, Ritual and Funerary  

Remains of Cistercian abbey. Said to have been first founded with monks from Whitland in 1164 by Robert Fitz Stephen, at Old Abbey Farm, some 3 km away, but the next year Norman control was lost to Rhys ap Gruffydd. The Abbey was seen as a foundation of the Lord Rhys and the monks probably moved to the new site almost immediately. Llantarnam and Aberconwy abbeys were founded from here 1179 and 1186. Lord Rhys confirmed his grants to the abbey in a charter of 1184, and the abbey became during the C13 the burial place of his heirs, as well as of the poet Dafydd ap Gwilym 1340-1370. The Abbey church is late C12, completed around 1201. The E end was altered in execution around 1200 or a little later, and the chapter house to the E of the cloister was built in the earlier C13. The great bell was purchased in 1255. There was damage in the war of 1282-4 and in 1284 or 1286 a fire from lightning burnt everything except the presbytery. In the 1295 uprising of Madoc ap Llywelyn the abbey was burnt by soldiers of Edward I. Repaired or rebuilt, the abbey declined in the C14. In the early C15 Owain Glyndwr uprising, the abbey was occupied by royal troops in 1402-3, 1406-7 and 1415. The abbey buildings were said to be in poor condition in 1442, but it would seem that the cloisters were rebuilt in the C15. At the Dissolution in 1539 there were seven monks and the abbot, and the refectory was ruinous, the infirmary collapsed. The lands were leased to the Devereux family, Earls of Essex, but were sold to John Stedman before 1567. The Stedman family built Great Abbey Farmhouse in the later C17, and after the death of Richard Stedman in 1744, the house and abbey ruins passed to the Powells of Nanteos. The Buck illustration of 1741 shows a substantial piece of masonry of the S transept still standing, now gone. Excavations were carried out in the 1847 by J. Davies of Pantyfedwen and much more intensely in 1887-90 by the architect S.W. Williams of Rhayader. Recorded as buried in the abbey cemetery are: Lord Rhys' sons Gruffudd 1201, Hywel Sais 1204, Maelgwn 1231 and Morgan 1251; Gruffudd's wife Matilda de Braose 1209, his two sons Rhys Ieuanc 1222, and Owain 1275; Owain's son Maredudd 1265, and grandson Owain 1275; Maelgwn's son Maelgwn Fychan 1257, grandson Rhys 1255, and granddaughter Gwenllian 1255. The Abbey was important to more than the princes of South Wales, for it was to Strata Florida that Llewelyn the Great summoned the Welsh magnates in 1238 to swear loyalty to his son Dafydd. The new Abbey superseded Llanbadarn Fawr as the leading centre of Welsh culture, and was probably the scriptorium for the royal annals.  

Ruins of abbey church. The plan is not wholly conventional, though it was to the Cistercian cruciform model, square-ended with three chapels on the east side of each transept. The nave was aisled with the arcades raised on screen walls some 5-7ft high, a feature not found elsewhere in England or Wales but known in Ireland. Evidence for a crossing tower is uncertain: there is a mural stair in the N transept, a great bell was bought in 1255 and the fire of 1284 started in the belfry, which presumably was over the crossing. The presbytery was extended by one bay, possibly when building or soon after, and there is evidence for the floor being raised in the C14 when it was paved with encaustic tiles. A further raising of the sanctuary probably occurred in the C15 when the altar was brought forward and two small chapels were inserted against the east wall. The extensive carved fragments found in 1887 are enough to confirm stone vaulting of the presbytery and the transept chapels with ribbed vaults. The presbytery vault ribs seem to be the source for the stones with a double band of big roundels. Some have been found built into the parish church, Great Abbey Farmhouse and Trawsgoed mansion. Capital details were of a transitional kind, more stiff-leaf than scallop, and with a certain amount of Celtic interlace. The nave arches were pointed and the arch mouldings of the crossing showed a round moulding to the earlier E arch, while the other three were beaded square. Three suggested forms of the nave piers: a thick quatrefoil cluster with shafts in the clefts; a round pier with four attached shafts and a cross with rebated angles and shafting at all the corners. The crossing, and in a minor form the transept chapel piers, were square with half-round responds and rebated angle shafts. Apart from the W walls the remnants are all low wall-bases with some moulded detail to the bases of crossing arches, transept chapel arches and the the W end of the arcades. The W door is a remarkable piece, illustrating the separation of the far west from the mainstream of the Romanesque. Five orders of shafts are carried right around the arch without capitals, but are interrupted regularly by ribbon-like bands terminated in a scroll, four across the uprights each side and five radiating around the arch, the centre band ended in a double scroll interlaced with leaves; there is also a scroll-ended hoodmould. The aisle window to the right is a pointed lancet. Analysis of stones found in the 1887 excavation suggested a very poor quality lime/mortar used with local stone. However there seem to have been dressings of four types: a millstone grit (apparently reused from an earlier building as there was moulding reversed in the main wall), Bath limestone for the dressings and quoins, some yellow Dundry stone and some purple Carbwdy stone from St Davids, which Williams thought was used in banding the arches. Much evidence of fire in the fragments. Remarkable survivors are the C14 tiles with which the chancel and the transept chapels were paved. Some are simply impressed with the decoration, some overlaid with white slip. The patterns are mostly geometrical, but there is a man witha mirror in C14 dress, the long liripipes dangling from his sleeves, a dragon, and a griffin. Of the monastic buildings, a narrow sacristy opening into the church is integral with the S transept. The Chapter House beyond was initially large, some 54ft by 27ft, but was halved in size in the C14, an indication of reduced status, and possibly put to use as the Warming Room. The base of the C15 N cloister wall shows a five-bay range with five-light windows and a central reading alcove. The W range is almost all gone; this was probably the lay brothers' section and the S range is under the curtilage of Great Abbey Farmhouse.  


Reason for designation
Graded I as the ruins of a major Cistercian abbey church, of great importance in the history of medieval Wales.  

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