The abbey was founded in 1164 by the Norman knight Robert FitzStephen. The Cistercian monks were brought from the Whitland Abbey and began to build a settlement on the banks of the Afon Fflur River. Shortly thereafter, the Normans were driven by the Welsh ruler Rhys ap Gruffydd, who in 1165 confirmed the land giving to the Cistercians. In 1184, the location of the abbey was changed to the present place, and the old site was named Hen Fynachlog, which means Old Monastery. The consecration of the church took place in 1201.
The glory days of the abbey fell on the turn of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when it was the spiritual center of the region. In the abbey, among others, the most important historical primary source for the early history of the Welsh people, Brut y Tywysogion, was created. Around 1238, prince Llywelyn ap Iorwerth held a council at Strata Florida where other Welsh leaders recognized his son Dafydd, as his rightful successor. In the second half of the thirteenth century, the abbey began to decline. In 1285 it suffered damage as a result of a lightning strike, it was also several times destroyed and plundered in times of the Welsh – English wars. In 1401, in the early years of the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr, Strata Florida was taken by king Henry IV and his son. The monks, considered to be supporters of Glyndŵr, were evicted from the monastery, which was plundered. Henry IV transformed the buildings into the headquarter for his troops, planning to take over or defeat all Welsh rebel forces operating in the region. In 1402 Earl of Worcester was in Strata Florida with a garrison of several hundred armed men, archers and infantrymen, who used the abbey as a base for further campaigns against the Welsh rebels in 1407 and 1415. The abbey returned to the Cistercians with the end of Glyndŵr‘s rebellion.
Strata Florida abbey was dissolved in 1539. The buildings and equipment have been valued and then sold. Unfortunately, the church and most of the buildings were dismantled for building materials, such as glass and stone, as well as tiles and lead from roofs. Only the refectory and dormitory were reconstructed as Ty Abaty, a home for the local nobility. Much of the former Cistercian monastic land was handed over to Thomas Cromwell, the first Earl of Essex, who sold it to Sir Vaughan of Trawsgoed. The discovery of the abbey took place again during railway works in the 19th century, when Stephen Williams, a member of the Cambrian Archaeological Association, began digging up the ruins.
The Strata Florida was a typical monastery created according to the Cistercian scheme. The church was erected as a three-nave, seven-bay basilica on a cruciform plan with the north and south transepts, rectangular chancel on the eastern side and with a small tower at the intersection of naves. On the eastern wall of the chancel there were two small chapels, which were extended in the mid-13th century. Three chapels were also placed in the eastern parts of the transepts. The floors of the presbytery and chapels were lined with richly decorated tiles, some of which had decorations in the form of griffins, flowers, leaves, crosses and heraldic shields. The less important nave and side aisles had floors made of local slate.
On the south side of nave, a square patio was located, surrounded by cloisters, allowing to move around the abbey without the need to go cold or rain. The cloisters were rebuilt in the fifteenth century, in its northern part a polygonal niche was added, used as a lectern for reading before the last service of the monastic day. A narrow sacristy and a chapter-house were in contact with the southern transept, a refectory was placed in the southern range, and in the western range: dormitory and rooms for lay brothers. The 13th-century chapter house was a rather spacious meeting place for monks. In the fourteenth century, it was reduced by half, and at the same time increased, perhaps after the damages caused during the Welsh uprising of 1294.
Only the outlines of foundations and the lower parts of the walls have survived to the modern times of the abbey. One of the most interesting details is the preserved western portal, once the main entrance to the monastery church, and decorated floor tiles. The area of the abbey is open to tourists.
Website castlewales.com, Strata Florida Abbey.
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