Strata Florida Abbey, Mid Wales

This Welsh Cistercian house, first founded in 1164, moved to its present, picturesque location in 1184, and took about 90 years to complete the building works. Unfortunately, no sooner had the monastery been completed, when a series of disasters brought about severe damage and destruction.

In 1285 the abbey church was struck by lightning, which caused a great deal of fire damage, then only 9 years later further destruction was suffered as a result of the Welsh rebellion. About a century later still, the Strata Florida Abbey was vandalised and deserted, left eventually for military occupation during a further revolt. Considering the frequency and severity of these wars, it is nothing short of a miracle that there are some remains at Strata Florida Abbey worth viewing.

The beautifully preserved west doorway, with its unique composition of ornate stonework, provides a perfect window for surveying the foundations and fragmented remains of the site, against a magnificent backdrop of rolling countryside. Along the length of the nave there is little to see except for the unusual arrangement of the screened nave aisles, verified by the low foundation walls that exist. However, what is enchanting are the proliferation of wild flowers springing from every crack and crevice in the craggy slate walls.

At the original crossing of the church, three of the south transept chapels have been roofed to protect a splendid collection of relaid medieval floor tiles, and some ragments of painted wall plaster. These fine examples give an indication of the rich and colourful work that went into the decoration of the medieval monasteries, and provide us with sufficient evidence to fire the imagination.

Surrounded by farmland even today, it is not difficult to visualise the secluded, and mostly peaceful, lifestyle enjoyed by the Cistercian monks in this gloriously uninhabited Welsh valley. My lasting impression of Strata Florida Abbey definitely falls within the realms of less is more.

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