The rain hammered against the car. We’d been twiddling our thumbs for a while, attempting to keep the windows from steaming up too badly while we grazed on what we had in the glove compartment, looked at the map and tried, unsuccessfully, to read the information board in front of which we had parked. The sun had fled the scene. Thunder rumbled overhead and the ‘Valley of Flowers’ was pretty much invisible.
Somewhere beyond the curtain of rain lay a beautiful valley nestled in the circling green of the hills. Even closer lay the ruined Abbey of Strata Florida that we had come to see. Yet all we could see was water and the blurred shapes of departing cars. No-one was fool enough to be wandering round ruins in this weather.
“How deep is it?”
“I’ll get the Wellies…” No-one, that is, except us.
The rain began to ease a little as we sploshed through the running puddles towards the Abbey. In the twelfth century, a group of Cistercian monks had begun to build a community in the area. The Abbey was founded around 1164, under the patronage of Rhys ap Gruffydd, with the church being consecrated in 1201.
The Abbey assumed an important place in Welsh politics and religion, and eleven princes of the Welsh Royal House of Dinefwr were buried there as well as the monks themselves. Then, in In 1401, Strata Florida Abbey was taken by King Henry IV and his son. Considering the monks guilty of supporting Owain Glyndŵr’s rebellion, the community was evicted from the Abbey, though its final demise did not come until it was dissolved in 1539 under Henry VIII’s reforms of the Church.
Little remains of the Abbey at first glance, apart from the arch and the outline. Local buildings seem to wear its stone and memory, but there are a series of chapels that are quite unique. Their altars long stood open to the sky and the winds, but their floors remain, beautifully laid with medieval tiles.
Simple roofing now protects them, lending a shadow of intimacy once again to the little chapels. Where the rain had splashed the tiles, the colours sang once more and the intricacy of their designs could be seen, including not just geometries and floral patterns, but mythical creatures and, famously, a gentleman looking at his reflection in a mirror.
Continue reading at France & Vincent