[1]

Robinson, D. M., Strata Florida Abbey and Talley Abbey, CADW, Welsh Assembly Government, 2007, p 23.

[2]

Williams, D. H., The Welsh Cistercians, Caldey Island, Tenby, 1983, p 13

[3]

Williams, S. W., The Cistercian Abbey of Strata Florida, London 1889, Appendix X.

[4]

Williams, S. W., The Cistercian Abbey of Strata Florida, London 1889, p 20-22

[5]

Jones, Theophilus, A History of the County of Brecknock, London, 1805,  Volume 1, p 270

www.hanesybont.co.uk

Notes

On the basis of what he had seen and been told,Stephen Williams later concluded that this spot must have been, at one time, the site of a significant religious house. However, it could not be compared in size, or in splendour, with its successor. He quoted two sources to support his hypothesis linking Rhys ap Tewdwr and the old monastery. First, Lewis Glyn Cothi who, writing between 1430 and 1470, referred to Tewdwr building houses (buildings) on the banks of the Fflur :

Tewdwr a wnaeth tai wendy

O flwr y vro wrth Flur vry

Secondly, he referred to Leland. The latter visited the Abbey around 1536 and claimed that Rhys ap Tewdwr was the original founder.  Leland must have had his information from the monks of Ystrad Fflur and, possibly, from the abbey records to which he had access.  It is possible that he, as some people believe, confused Rhys ap Tewdwr with Rhys ap Gruffydd. On the other hand, he may have been saying that it all started with the old abbey founded for monks of some order by Rhys ap Tewdwr. William Camden, writing within about 50 years of the dissolution of the monasteries (1536-1539), refers to the old abbey as a Priory of the Cluniac Order, and Stephen Williams suggests that :

Stephen Williams reasoned that Rhys ap Twedwr had, probably, established the old monastery in the early years of his reign, nearly a hundred years before Ystrad Fflur was founded.

However, Robert fitz Stephen’s ambitions were very short-lived  In 1166, Rhys ap Gruffydd (Lord Rhys, one of Wales’ most successful and powerful princes) seized all Norman holdings in Ceredigion. Robert fitz Stephen, was captured and imprisoned, and Rhys ap Gruffydd went on to assume the patronage of Ystrad Fflur. He improved on his predecessor’s modest endowment, and he is often regarded, with some justification, as the actual founder of Ystrad Fflur.

Following the change of circumstances, building at ‘Yr Hen Fynachlog’ was, probably, halted soon afterwards, and work transferred to a more advantageous location close to the junction between the rivers Glasffrwd and the Teifi. Exactly when the monks moved to Ystrad Fflur is uncertain. However, it is known that construction must have been well under way by 1184. Rhys ap Gruffydd, in his charter of that year, asserts that he had begun to build the venerable abbey entitled Stratflur [3] The above account suggests that ‘Yr Hen Fynachlog’ was, as indicated by CADW, a temporary site. It was in existence for only a short time, and never progressed much beyond the ‘temporary-accommodation’ stage.

There is another, much earlier account of events surrounding the founding of Ystrad Fflur. This is not entirely in accord with contemporary records, in particular, it makes no reference to Robert fitz Stephen. The author of this version is Stephen Williams whose work on the history and architecture of the abbey is still (120 years on) widely acknowledged [4]. He attributed (not strictly correct) the founding of Ystrad Fflur to Rhys ap Gruffydd ; more interestingly he claimed that  Rhys ap Tewdwr (Rhys ap Gruffydd’s grandfather) had founded a monastery for monks of some order at ‘Yr Hen Fynachlog’, a long time before his grandson assumed the patronage of Ystrad Fflur :  

. . . the Cluniac monastery of Rhys ap Tewdwr, as it was called by Camden, became merged in the new foundation for the Cistercian order founded by Rhys ap Gruffydd. fitz Stephen to be strictly correct)

There is no doubting the fact that Ystrad Ffur was first founded in 1164 by Robert fitz Stephen on a site known as ‘Yr Hen Fynachlog’. However, the history of this site is far from clear – were the Cistercian monks the first to colonize this spot, or could it have been (prior to 1164) the home of another monastic order? It is interesting to explore what  local tradition has to say about the old abbey, and the following three web pages are concerned with long established beliefs whether ‘Yr Hen Fynachlog’ was the site of a temporary building or an old forgotton religious house.

Ystrad Fflur is one of the most important historic abbeys in Britain, and one of Wales' most significant medieval monument. It stands on a strip of land close to where the river Glasffrwd merges with the Teifi. Robert fitz Stephen, a powerful Anglo-Norman baron, with extensive possessions in west Wales, is credited with founding the abbey in 1164. The original location is thought to have been a spot 1.5 miles south-west of Ystard Fflur at a place still known as ‘Yr Hen Fynachlog’ (the Old Abbey). This is near a small brook called Fflur (click here to see a map of the area), from which Ystrad Fflur derives its name.  

Very little has been written about ‘Yr Hen Fynachlog’. There are some interesting local stories relating to this site ; they are intriguing and thought-provoking. Of course, they lack the credibility of evidence drawn from documents, but they are, nevertheless, worth reviewing and recording. The present web page  outlines the two main accounts of the history of the old abbey, while the following three pages (linked) explore local beliefs.

Conclusion

Theophilus Jones gives no authority relating to the burial of Bleddyn ap Maenarch at Ystrad Flur. However, it is known that the latter died in battle in 1093, while fighting alongside his brother in law, Rhys ap Tewdwr – who was also killed in the same skirmish with the Normans.  There is no obvious reason to doubt that Theophilus Jones is correct, and that both were buried in the same monastery – that, of course, would have to be ‘Yr Hen Fynachlog’.

Theophilus Jones, (who has been described as a diligent and careful researcher) wrote in 1805 [5] :

Bleddin ap Maenarch was buried at Ystrad Fflur or Strata Florida abbey in Cardiganshire, which was built by his brother in law Rhys ap Tewdwr, and endowed in 1164 by Rhys ap Gruffydd who styles himself the founder in his charter (1184)

Part of the alleged site of ‘Yr Hen Fynachlog’

According to CADW, ‘Yr Hen Fynachlog’ was simply a ‘Temporary Site’ [1]. A group of monks from Whitland abbey (the mother of all the Welsh Cistercian foundations) arrived here in the summer of 1164 to found a daughter house. Quite likely, their patron, Robert ap Stephen, would have (in accordance with Cistercian practice) erected a timber building before the colony arrived. This would have been a temporary arrangement ;  however, the intention must have been to construct a more permanent structure, and to establish a lasting monastic presence on the banks of the Fflur. Certainly, it seems the site had been carefully chosen, near the junction of the Fflur and another river called Gorphen. Cistercian abbeys  were normally sited between two natural channels of water  –  a main river and a tributary [2] :

. . . for it was often the waters of the latter which were led off to flush the drainage channels of the monastery

He suggested that ‘Yr Hen Fynachlog’ may have been, in a ‘ruinous condition’ in 1164. Following the death of Rhys ap Tewdwr, the country entered a prolonged period of conflict which may have led to a steady decline in the old abbey’s fortunes  If so, it is not unreasonable to think that the Cistercian colony of 1164 may have taken over this ailing religious house. It would have been the quickest way to establish a foothold in this isolated corner of Ceredigion – a ready site, an existing church and buildings, albeit in need of some renovation

When excavating at Ystrad Fflur (1880s), Stephen Williams found some time to inspect the old abbey site. The resident farmer at Old Abbey farm, who pointed out to Stephen Williams the extent of the ground covered by old buildings and what he believed to be the church foundations :

. . . the traditional site of the church, of which within the memory of some old people still living, fragments of the walls remained above the surface.

Rhys ap Tewdwr founded a house for monks of some order at a place still called ‘Yr Hen Fynachlog’, or the old monastery, situated upon the banks of the small river called the Fflur, two miles south-west of the Abbey of Ystrad Fflur.

Yr Hen Fynachlog

An old established monastery is thought  to have been situated on the banks of the river Fflur

Page 1

The ruins of the celebrated abbey of Ystrad Fflur

situated between the riverTeifi and the Glasffrwd

(the west view of the ruins by Samuel & Nathaniel Buck in 1741)

Introduction and background information

Effigy of Rhys ap Gruffydd

St. Davids Cathedral

(Rhys ap Gruffydd on Wikipedia)

Disclaimer

I’m not a historian and, maybe, it’s foolish for anyone dabbling in local history to look too far back into the past. Anything to do with the medieval period should, perhaps, be left to real historians and archaeologists. However, it’s very easy, sometimes, for a dilettante to become a bit obsessed by tradition and old folk tales, even when they relate to matters dating way back to the Middle Ages. Perhaps, unwisely, I have succumbed to the temptation of delving into a few long-held, local beliefs about ‘Yr Hen Fynachlog’ – thought to be the site of an old monastery, and the ‘first’ Ystrad Fflur. While much of the material included is not original, it is worth re-telling so that it’s not lost and forgotten.  As to its historical value, I make no comment.