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Sad Monk, Happy Monk

The abbey gate and precinct to Boxley Abbey, near Maidstone, Kent

 I am Richard and once was a monk of the Cistercian order at Boxley Abbey, north of Maidstone, Kent. It is now the Year of Our Lord 1389, and I am far from that life of poverty, contemplation, and silence that I lived for most of my years. Boxley was my home from near infancy until I had passed 35 years when I was ejected by an abbot who wanted rid of me. If I had imagined ever leaving Boxley before that day, I would have thought my life would end in a trice, that my skin would be mauled to ribbons by the claws of the devil. Yay, I must be blessed, for I have lived through times of terrible consequence and now wear a mantle of wealth far beyond the riches of Boxley Abbey itself.

Opening lines to The Song of Oswald

Thus begins “The Song of Oswald,” a novel I wrote four years ago and which remains unpublished. It’s a medieval adventure story about Richard, a monk who has been ejected from his abbey, and his brother. They undertake a risky mission from Boxley Abbey to France to steal the sacred remains of a long-dead English saint and return them to England. The corrupt abbot wants the relics to attract visits and financial inducements from pilgrims.

Oswald, Richard’s brother, is a sort of Robin Hood character, who is hired by the Boxley abbot to carry out this assignment. He’s a dangerous outlaw but has a benevolent reputation among the common folk: a hero and a villain.

A medieval adventure yarn

Richard, Oswald, and a young woman named Claire cross the English Channel in a medieval hulk 1, walk through war-ravaged northern France and encounter a fortified monastery where the sacred relics lie. They are the target of arrows, bullied by a vicious English knight who competes for the remains and the riches in the abbey. They flee the monastery, which is set ablaze by the English army. They never find the sacred remains of the English saint.

Writing The Song of Oswald was a culmination of a long-term fascination of mine with monks and monasteries. It was also the inspiration for the name of The Happy Monk Baking Company.

The monastic tradition was a grand experiment in building a utopian community. Simple at first: the rejection of all material concerns, removal from the secular world, and the devotion of one’s life to the sacred. Life was ruled by a daily/hourly ritual of prayer and simple works. The European movement thrived for hundreds of years, brought about innovations in farming, architecture and was the engine of unparalleled economic expansion and wealth.

A failed experiment in religious community

And in that, the utopian experiment faltered. How could the vast riches of the monasteries co-exist with the severe religious devotions of the monks, which was governed by a strict Holy Rule? Abbeys became corrupt money-lenders, owners of vast tracts of land, brothel keepers, and their priests preyed on the fears of people who sought divine protection from evil.

Power and enrichment gradually overtook the monasteries’ business and the common folk came to despise them. Finally, in the early 1500s, Henry VIII dissolved most of the 900 English religious houses and ended a way of life for 12,000 monks, canons, friars, and nuns. And with that, dissolved a way of life that had much to speak of: a protected, quiet way of life, spiritual devotion, good works in the communities, simple farming and the preservation of vast works of literature and religious writings.

Boxley Abbey was a real monastery, one of many destroyed by Henry VIII and his cold-blooded lieutenant, Thomas Cromwell. It wasn’t as grand as the one I created in the novel, which is based on the magnificent Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire.

The author contemplates life at Boxley Abbey in 1381. Note the lonely mare at left who came for apples.

Jennifer and I visited Boxley in 2015. All that remains are some crumbling stone walls, a hayfield, and an old barn. An old mare crossed the field to the fence when we stopped at the gate. We fed it apples from a nearby tree. I asked the horse if she knew any monks. “More apples, please,” she said.

Boxley and the chalk hills of Kent

The Boxley grounds lie at the foot of the chalk hills of the north Kent countryside. The Pilgrim’s Road, used by pilgrims who traveled from London to Canterbury (including Chaucer’s pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales), passes by not far from the site.

Richard, the main character of The Song of Oswald, loves his abbey and the monk’s life but is beset upon by the corrupt abbot, who wants to bring more riches into the abbey’s coffers. Richard mourns the loss of the monastic tradition, confronts the horrors of the King’s war against France, and is shaken by plague and death.

And yet Richard still lands on his feet. He inherits the vast wealth of his deceased parents, who died mysteriously when he was still a child. It’s not enough, though, to make Richard whole. He still pines for his simple monk’s life.

And, of course, he misses the love of the young woman, Claire, who accompanies the two brothers to France.

Claire, as it happens, becomes a bread baker by the end of the story. She uses a cob oven outside her aunt’s house in Maidstone. She sells her wares in the town’s market square and is working towards membership in the baker’s guild.

Claire loves Richard, but things don’t work out. 

A sad monk becomes a Happy Monk

Poor Richard! He’s a bit of a sad sack, but I love him dearly. There’s more than a little of me in him. I wish him free of material concerns, to live a simpler life and not encumbered by the burdens of wealth and privilege. I want him to be free.

Thus, we named the company The Happy Monk Baking Company in honour of Richard and in the hope that he can live his life in pure devotion to nature, wholesome food, the good earth, cold water swimming, and the love of a good woman.


The Song of Oswald is still alive! It is far from being relegated to the bottom desk drawer. I have a strong desire to see it published and gracing the front window of the Talisman Bookstore here on Pender Island and many others! I’m making revisions when I have time from baking so that a literary agent can represent it to publishers. To learn more about The Song of Oswald, click here.


Happy Monk Tidings - October 27, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Mountain Rye; Blog: Colossal Roughhousing on Boundary Pass [ See link in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - October 27, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Mountain Rye; Blog: Colossal Roughhousing on Boundary Pass [ See link in profile ] ...

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The good earth! We survive the big storm! Been inside all day so I’m going swimming and the hot tub awaits. .
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#coldwaterswimming #coldwaterswim #coldwatertherapy #penderisland #southpenderisland

The good earth! We survive the big storm! Been inside all day so I’m going swimming and the hot tub awaits. .
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#coldwaterswimming #coldwaterswim #coldwatertherapy #penderisland #southpenderisland
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Happy Monk Tidings - October 20, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sprouted Purple Barley Sourdough; Blog: To All the Bakers: Past, Present, Future and Imaginary! [ See Link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - October 20, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sprouted Purple Barley Sourdough; Blog: To All the Bakers: Past, Present, Future and Imaginary! [ See Link in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - October 15, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Pender Island Apple Bread; Blog: Happy Monk Bread Teachers: Francis Olive [ See Link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - October 15, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Pender Island Apple Bread; Blog: Happy Monk Bread Teachers: Francis Olive [ See Link in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - October 6, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sesame-Wheat Sourdough; Blog: Making Your Own Bread - You've Got This; Video: Bake Day with the Happy Monk [See Link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - October 6, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sesame-Wheat Sourdough; Blog: Making Your Own Bread - You've Got This; Video: Bake Day with the Happy Monk [See Link in Profile ] ...

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Bake Day with the Happy Monk. The amazing @jomosenpai (my son) came over to Pender last summer on a bake day. Was in my face all the time, taking pictures, shooting video. It was so great having him around, and I’m amazed the bread (Polenta Rosemary Sourdough) turned out so well. This video he made turned out very well, too!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #polenta #polentabread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland

Bake Day with the Happy Monk. The amazing @jomosenpai (my son) came over to Pender last summer on a bake day. Was in my face all the time, taking pictures, shooting video. It was so great having him around, and I’m amazed the bread (Polenta Rosemary Sourdough) turned out so well. This video he made turned out very well, too!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #polenta #polentabread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland
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Happy Monk Tidings - September 22, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Harvest Bread; Blog: Sourdough September and the Real Bread Campaign [ See link in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - September 22, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Harvest Bread; Blog: Sourdough September and the Real Bread Campaign [ See link in profile ] ...

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A horizontal world, an endless beach with long rollers, sandwiched beneath a low sky ceiling … and hundreds of surfers. Chesterman’s Beach, Tofino.

A horizontal world, an endless beach with long rollers, sandwiched beneath a low sky ceiling … and hundreds of surfers. Chesterman’s Beach, Tofino. ...

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Post to The Happy Monk Baking Company
Happy Monk Tidings - September 1, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sprouted Rye and Seed Bread; Blog: We're all rich when you think about it; South Pender Growers and Makers and Heritage Market; The Happy Monk Holidays - [ Link in profile ]

Post to The Happy Monk Baking Company
Happy Monk Tidings - September 1, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sprouted Rye and Seed Bread; Blog: We're all rich when you think about it; South Pender Growers and Makers and Heritage Market; The Happy Monk Holidays - [ Link in profile ]
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Happy Monk Tidings - August 25, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Cinnamon-Raisin Bread; Blog: Marriage, Laurie Anderson and the Weddings of Pender; and more! [ See links in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 25, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Cinnamon-Raisin Bread; Blog: Marriage, Laurie Anderson and the Weddings of Pender; and more! [ See links in profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - August 18, 2021 🍞 - This week's Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; Blog: A Benediction on Mount Norman. [ See links in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 18, 2021 🍞 - This week's Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; Blog: A Benediction on Mount Norman. [ See links in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - August 11, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Polenta and Rosemary Sourdough; Blog: Here's to the Homely Loaves! [ See Linktree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 11, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Polenta and Rosemary Sourdough; Blog: Here's to the Homely Loaves! [ See Linktree in Profile ] ...

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Lo! The mighty Seed Feast! Favoured by Happy Monk customers the Pender Islands over! These loaves, just rolled out of Mildrith, are hot and fragrant with seeds, nuttiness and bready wholesome-ness. O for a steamy slice and a schmear of butter! That I may eat “and leave the world unseen, and with thee fade away into the forest dim.” (Apologies to the ghost of John Keats).
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#seedfeastbread #seedbread #seedybread #sourdough #sourdoughbread #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #woodfiredbread #coboven #earth.oven #bread #breadlove #baker #bbga #happymonkbaker #happymonkbaking #naturallyleavened #artisanbread #realbread #breadpoetry #rusticbread #penderisland #southpenderisland

Lo! The mighty Seed Feast! Favoured by Happy Monk customers the Pender Islands over! These loaves, just rolled out of Mildrith, are hot and fragrant with seeds, nuttiness and bready wholesome-ness. O for a steamy slice and a schmear of butter! That I may eat “and leave the world unseen, and with thee fade away into the forest dim.” (Apologies to the ghost of John Keats).
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#seedfeastbread #seedbread #seedybread #sourdough #sourdoughbread #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #woodfiredbread #coboven #earth.oven #bread #breadlove #baker #bbga #happymonkbaker #happymonkbaking #naturallyleavened #artisanbread #realbread #breadpoetry #rusticbread #penderisland #southpenderisland
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Happy Monk Tidings - August 4, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Volkornbrot (German Rye) with Sunflower Seeds; also Seed Feast; Blog: Why Eat Ancient and Heritage Grains?; Goin' Fishin' Soon! [ See Linktree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 4, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Volkornbrot (German Rye) with Sunflower Seeds; also Seed Feast; Blog: Why Eat Ancient and Heritage Grains?; Goin' Fishin' Soon! [ See Linktree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - July 28, 2021 🍞- Baker's Choice: Sprouted Kamut; Blog: Mildrith's Body of Miracles; Goin' Fishin' - [ See Link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 28, 2021 🍞- Baker's Choice: Sprouted Kamut; Blog: Mildrith's Body of Miracles; Goin' Fishin' - [ See Link in Profile ] ...

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Moonset and high tide, South Pender Island at 3:50 a.m. 
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 #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredbaking #woodfiredbread #clayoven #clayovenbaking #coboven #cobovenbaking #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #breadmaking #breadbaking #breadlove #bread #bakersofinstagram #bakerslife #penderisland #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #happymonk #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery

Moonset and high tide, South Pender Island at 3:50 a.m.
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredbaking #woodfiredbread #clayoven #clayovenbaking #coboven #cobovenbaking #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #breadmaking #breadbaking #breadlove #bread #bakersofinstagram #bakerslife #penderisland #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #happymonk #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery
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Happy Monk Tidings - July 21, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Bird Seed Bread; Blog: Rye Bread: The Agony and the Ecstasy [ See link in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 21, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Bird Seed Bread; Blog: Rye Bread: The Agony and the Ecstasy [ See link in profile ] ...

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In the early light of dawn, Mildrith oven-springs sourdough, caramelizes crusts gold and brown and leaves heavenly smells as evidence. Inside her hot clay dome, 12 boules of Salish Sourdough are on the final stage of their journey. Behold the steam rising out of the chimney!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #clayoven #clayovenbakery #clayovenbread #woodfiredbaking #woodfiredbread #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #breadmaking #breadbaking #breadlove #bread #bakersofinstagram #bakerslife #penderisland #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #happymonk #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery

In the early light of dawn, Mildrith oven-springs sourdough, caramelizes crusts gold and brown and leaves heavenly smells as evidence. Inside her hot clay dome, 12 boules of Salish Sourdough are on the final stage of their journey. Behold the steam rising out of the chimney!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #clayoven #clayovenbakery #clayovenbread #woodfiredbaking #woodfiredbread #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #breadmaking #breadbaking #breadlove #bread #bakersofinstagram #bakerslife #penderisland #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #happymonk #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery
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  1. A two-masted sailing ship first used by merchants plying England and the European coast

2 thoughts on “Sad Monk, Happy Monk

  1. Dear BloggyBreadeaters: I may be accused of bias, as I am related to the author, but I promise you this unpublished novel is as tasty as one of David’s yeasty creations. Petitions should be distributed to demand a House print the thing. It is a total original.

  2. Thank you, mon frère. You are a much valued supporter of Richard, Oswald, Claire … and me!

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