ARCHAEOLOGISTS have found hard evidence of a rare medieval
convent, long known to have existed in west Wales.
Until now, mystery surrounded the exact location of the Llanllyr
nunnery in the Aeron Valley, near Aberaeron. But experts from the
Dyfed Archaeological Trust, and the University of Wales, Trinity
Saint David, have unearthed the remains of the convent, its
cemetery, and a Tudor mansion.
It lies near a Victorian country house built by the descendants
of the Lloyd family, who acquired the convent at the Dissolution of
the Monasteries in 1537.
"Medieval nunneries like this are incredibly rare, with only one
other known in Wales," Dr Jemma Bezan, of the university's School
of Archaeology, History, and Anthropology, said. "This is an
incredibly important site, dating back to the late eighth century
at least, and gives us an unparalleled opportunity to gather more
information about monastic life."
The nunnery was founded in 1180 by Lord Rhys ap Gruffudd. It was
a daughter house of the substantial Cistercian monastery 15 miles
away at Strata Florida, which was demolished during the Dissolution
and rediscovered only in the 19th century.
Dr Bezant said: "We know that the nuns farmed sheep and cattle
successfully, and they would have tended mills, orchards, and
fishponds. There are medieval fairs nearby at Talsarn and
Llanerchaeron, and they could have been trading far and wide, with
coastal access only a couple of miles away at Aberaeron.
"We have already recovered fragments of sumptuous glazed floor
tiles, indicating that the nunnery was lavishly built and
decorated. The site is on a wetland valley floor, and waterlogged
timbers are being analysed at Lampeter Dendrochronology
Very little is known about the layout of the convent; so the
team is using 18th-century estate maps, and a 17th-century
depiction of the mansion in a bid to find the medieval chapel .
The convent was on the edge of a valley floor that was drained
and improved, although watery places were likely to have held
continuing spiritual significance for the nuns and pilgrims alike.
Today, the water is sold globally by the Llanllyr Water
"The discovery of the grave features is very exciting," Dr
Bezant said, "but it is unlikely that skeletal material remains in
the acidic west-Wales soils. If we are able to recover such
fragments, they could tell us about who was buried here . . . and
what kind of lives they led."