Strata Florida was originally founded in 1164AD by Robert fitz Stephen on the banks of the Afon Fflur as a Cistercian house. It is from this site that the abbey takes its name - which translates as "Vale of Flowers". Building work began at this site, but for reasons unknown, the abbey was quickly re-founded at its present location 2 miles hence.
Strata Florida came under the patronage of the local Welsh chieftain, Rhys ap Gruffydd, and in 1184AD, a further charter was issued, re-affirming the status of the abbey. Work started on a new church, which was subsequently consecrated in 1201AD.
Strata Florida flourished under Rhys ap Gruffydd's patronage, rising rapidly in prominence. Around 1238AD, the Welsh prince Llywelyn the Great held a council at the abbey, at which he required his vassal princes to acknowledge his son as his successor.
The abbey was considered one of the great centres of Welsh learning, and it continued to prosper until the English kings began their conquest of Wales in earnest. Edward I came to the throne in 1272AD, and was determined to crush all resistance to his rule in Wales. In 1285AD, the church was struck by lightning, with further damage being sustained during the wars with the English. From this time onwards, Strata Florida entered a period of gradual decline.
In 1401AD, during the rebellion of Owain Glyndwr, Strata Florida became the base for King Henry IV's military campaign. He excluded monks from the abbey who were believed to be sympathetic to Glyndwr's cause, and the abbey was plundered as punishment for their misplaced loyalties.
Strata Florida survived until the reformation, and was dissolved in the February of 1539AD. Subsequently, its lands were granted to Sir Richard Devereux, who distributed them amongst the local gentry. The refectory and dormitory were turned into a manor house. The church itself fell into ruin, and was quickly plundered for its stone. In 1931AD, the abbey became a scheduled monument, and is now held in the care of CADW.
An interesting story surfaces around the time of the dissolution. Legend has it that a group of monks arrived at Strata Florida from Glastonbury abbey. They were fleeing the king's commissioners, and seeking a place of safe keeping for the artefact in their care - the holy grail. When Henry’s men arrived at Strata Florida, the Grail was removed to the cellars beneath Nanteos Mansion, fifteen miles away. In 1739AD, the Nanteos house was rebuilt, and the cup displayed in a glass container. It was frequently offered to visitors that they might experience its healing powers. The cup passed out of sight during the 20th Century, and is believed to currently reside in a safety deposit box with the Lloyds Bank. It was allegedly tested by scientists in the 1960s, who found it to be of 15th Century origin.
While the Nanteos cup is unlikely to be the holy grail, it is entirely possible that the artefact is a medieval relic, and the story of the fleeing monks does have a ring of authenticity. Sadly, this can be nothing more than speculation, as no reliable records survive.
Today, Strata Florida survives in a very ruinous state, with most of the abbey's remains rising to a mere few feet in height. Nevertheless, the abbey's tranquil setting, tucked away in a quiet and beautiful corner of the Welsh countryside, makes the site well worth a visit. It's very easy to experience a vivid sense of history at this site.