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Cistercian Abbeys: STRATA MARCELLA

Name: STRATA MARCELLA Location: nr Welshpool County: Powys
Foundation: 1170 Mother house: Whitland
Relocation: c. 1172 Founder: Owain Cyfeiliog
Dissolution: 1536 Prominent members:
Access: No remains to be seen

In 1170 the prince of southern Wales, Owain Cyfeiliog, invited a colony of monks from Whitland to settle at a new foundation on the west bank of the River Severn. It is believed that after only two years, the monks moved from the first site to the present one.(1) The abbey was usually called Ystrad Marchell (at both sites). In his old age, Prince Owain retired to the monastery and took the habit of the Cistercian monks. On his death, in 1197, he was buried in the grounds of the abbey. Thereafter, his son Gwenwynwyn (d. 1216) took over patronage of the abbey and added considerably to Strata Marcella’s endowments.(2) It also known that Gruffyd ap Gwenwynwyn, lord of Powys, entered a certain monastery when he was close to death (c. 1260) but recovered during his stay; it is thought that this abbey was Strata Marcella which was close to his power base at Pool. The writer, Gerald of Wales, tells of the abbot, Enoc (c. 1190), who was guilty of misconduct with a nun and abandoned the habit.(3) Strata Marcella was one of the abbeys to suffer damage during the wars of Edward I and by the fourteenth century was in a state of poverty.

In the late 1320s, Lord John de Cherleton of Powys (d. 1353) sought to introduce English monks into Strata Marcella. He openly opposed the Welsh community, complaining that there were only eight monks at the house when at one time there had been sixty.(4) In 1330 Edward III responded by dispersing the Welsh community at Strata Marcella and sending the monks to English houses. The community at Strata Marcella was replaced with English monks, and the house was made subject to the abbey of Buildwas in Shropshire.(5) At the time of the Dissolution the abbey had a net annual income of a mere £64 and a community of just four.(6) The house was suppressed in the first round of closures in 1536. Virtually no trace of the abbey exists today, apart from a few small areas of masonry and some earthworks which denote the positions of the church and cloister. The site is now a field of pasture on the west bank of the River Severn.