Cwm-hir was founded in the twelfth century as a daughter house to Whitland. The initial moves towards its foundation were made by the local Welsh ruler, Maredudd ap Madoc ab Idnerth, in 1143, but he was killed in 1146 and the area was reconquered by the Normans. His son Cadwallon reclaimed the kingdom and re-founded the abbey in 1176. It was here that the mangled remains of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, last Welsh prince of Wales, were buried in 1282.
The church of St Mary in Abbey Cwm-hir was built in 1865 by Mary Beatrice Phillips, sister of the squire. We do not know where the abbey tenants worshipped before the Dissolution or in the years after. In 1680, William Fowler built the first parish church, but by 1860 it had fallen into decay. (This was the William Fowler immortalised in the rhyme:
Radnorshire, poor Radnorshire,
Never a park and never a deer,
And never a man of five hundred a year
Except Sir William Fowler of Abbey Cwm-hir.
The new church is ornately gothic in style, with coloured bands in the stonework and an elaborate tower over the porch. Over the door is a copy of a weatherworn tympanum which was found in the abbey ruins. The copy on the church interprets it as a picture of the Ascension, but modern scholars think it more likely that the original depicts the Assumption of the Virgin. As well as this copy, the church houses much of the carved stone rescued from the abbey.
The strangely-named Happy Union Inn, over the road from the church, is a Regency building with iron Gothic windows. The same style of building and windows can be found all through the village, including the house and farm buildings at the Home Farm. Abbey Cwm-hir Hall is later, of the same period as the church and with similar multicoloured masonry and slates.
At Cwm-hir a geologist who can identify building stones at a glance and over considerable distances has been plotting the distribution of stone from Cwm-hir around the neighbouring farms and in churches as far away as Llanidloes and Llanbadarn Fynydd. This is bad news for the present occupants of these buildings. As far as he is concerned, the stones are Abbey Cwm-hir’s - and he wants them back! He would obviously like to reconstruct the abbey: failing that, he may be persuaded to make a record of the stones with a digital camera and rebuild a virtual abbey.