databas cerddi guto'r glyn

Strata Florida abbey

Strata Florida abbey
Strata Florida abbey
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Strata Florida abbey’s beautiful setting and its iconic western gateway leading to the ruins of old buildings are a testament to its former splendour and to why it was known as one of the foremost of Wales’s Cistercian abbeys in the Middle Ages. However, by the early fifteenth century some of the buildings had already begun to deteriorate.[1] After all, some parts, such as the choir or the monks’ chancel (poem 8.58), included building work that dated back as far as the twelfth century.

By the time Rhys ap Dafydd (c.1436‒41), Guto’s patron, was abbot of Strata Florida, the abbey was in need of restoration, which would surely have been a costly and exhausting task. While the building work was taking place, Guto composed a poem of praise to Abbot Rhys where he refers to his intention of renewing the abbey. Guto implies that stones are being used to build it: Tref a wneler trwy fain eiliad ‘a court to be made by weaving of stone’ (poem 8.70); according to Peter Lord, expert stonemasons were employed.[2] Guto also refers to the abbey’s cellar (seler) and excellent foundation (seiliad) (poem 8.71) and he specifically states that Abbot Rhys was responsible for building the refectory:

 Credwn nad haelach creadur – no Rhys, 
16Rhoes am waith y ffreutur. 
 Cyfodes y cofiadur 
 Cwfent a phlaid cefn tŷ Fflur. 
We believe that there is no more generous creature than Rhys,
he paid for the construction of the refectory.
The recorder built
the convent and supporting wall of Fflur’s house.

(poem 8.15-18)

Furthermore, Guto describes some spectacular decorations which were also added by the abbot ‒ magnificent glass windows, possibly stained glass, which was very expensive to produce (see Houses and buildings: Glass). There is also a reference to fflowrestri, a floral decoration of some kind: this could have been carved in timber or stone, similar perhaps to the decorated column capitals that have survived from the abbey:

 Gwnaeth gyfrestri gwydr ffenestri, 
 Gaer fflowrestri, gôr Fflur Ystrad, 
 Gwin fenestri ag aur lestri, 
60Gwalchmai’r festri, gweilch Mair fwstrad. 
He made rows of glass windows,
flowery ornament of a court, the chancel of Strata Florida,
dispensers of wine in gold vessels,
Gwalchmai of the vestry, mustering of Mary’s hawks.

(poem 8.57-60)

A ceramic floor tile from Strata Florida abbey, c.14th-15th century.
A ceramic tile from Strata Florida abbey
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Despite the efforts of Abbot Rhys ap Dafydd, by c.1442 the abbey was in a poor state of repair, although Abbot Morgan ap Rhys (1444‒86) improved the buildings further according to Dafydd Nanmor. By the time John Leland visited the abbey in the 1530s, it was once again in poor condition, with the common rooms, the monks’ refectory and infirmary all in a critical state. A number of tiles have survived from the abbey and graves from earlier periods are also visible today.

For further information, see Monastic Wales, Strata Florida abbey.


[1]: D.M. Robinson, The Cistercians in Wales: Architecture and Archaeology 1130‒1540 (London, 2006), 269.
[2]: P. Lord, Medieval Vision: The Visual Culture of Wales (Cardiff, 2003), 91.
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