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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Thus begins “The Song of Oswald,” a novel I wrote four years ago and which remains unpublished.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 - May 18, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Olive Bread; UPDATE: Canal Bridge project postponed; Assume normal delivery schedule; BLOG: The Breadman's Quest for the Stanley Cup - [See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - May 18, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Olive Bread; UPDATE: Canal Bridge project postponed; Assume normal delivery schedule; BLOG: The Breadman's Quest for the Stanley Cup - [See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - May 11, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Rye-Spelt Sourdough; Blog: Road/Bridge Closure: Be Here Now - [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - May 11, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Rye-Spelt Sourdough; Blog: Road/Bridge Closure: Be Here Now - [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

33 1
Happy Monk Tidings - May 4, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Polenta and Rosemary Bread ☀︎ Blog: An Artisan Bread Manifesto ☀︎ [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

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40 2
Happy Monk Tidings - April 27, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Spelt Honey Sourdough; Blog: A Podcast for Pender Island [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - April 27, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Spelt Honey Sourdough; Blog: A Podcast for Pender Island [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - April 20, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Mountain Rye ; Blog: Walking with My Father [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - April 20, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Mountain Rye ; Blog: Walking with My Father [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

34 2
Happy Monk Tidings - April 13, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Hot Cross Buns; Blog: Who's to Blame for the Hot Cross Buns Song? [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

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32 2
Happy Monk Tidings - April 6, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Whole-Wheat Flax Bread; Blog: The Baker's Arms [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

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Happy Monk Tidings - March 30, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Oat Porridge Bread; Blog: Thanne Longen Folk ...; We're Donating to Ukraine! [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - March 30, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Oat Porridge Bread; Blog: Thanne Longen Folk ...; We're Donating to Ukraine! [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - March 16, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Spelt and Honey Sourdough; Blog: Wheat Connections to Ukraine [ See LinkTree in Bio ]

Happy Monk Tidings - March 16, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Spelt and Honey Sourdough; Blog: Wheat Connections to Ukraine [ See LinkTree in Bio ] ...

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These corn kernels are headed to the mill to make cornmeal for Anadama Bread this week. It’s a bread with origins on the east coast, but that shouldn’t stop us west coasters from enjoying it, too, godanadamit! This is organic field corn from @fieldstoneorganics of Armstrong, B.C. … and the hard red whole wheat from Metchosin, B.C. make this Happy Monk take on Anadama a bona fide west coast phenomenon! Just sayin’!
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#anadama #anadamabread #cornmeal #cornmealbread #metchosinbc #armstrongbc #stoneground #stonegroundflour #stonemilled #stonemilledflour #stonemilledbread #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #sourdough #sourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries

These corn kernels are headed to the mill to make cornmeal for Anadama Bread this week. It’s a bread with origins on the east coast, but that shouldn’t stop us west coasters from enjoying it, too, godanadamit! This is organic field corn from @fieldstoneorganics of Armstrong, B.C. … and the hard red whole wheat from Metchosin, B.C. make this Happy Monk take on Anadama a bona fide west coast phenomenon! Just sayin’!
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#anadama #anadamabread #cornmeal #cornmealbread #metchosinbc #armstrongbc #stoneground #stonegroundflour #stonemilled #stonemilledflour #stonemilledbread #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #sourdough #sourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries
...

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Happy Monk Tidings - March 9, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Anadama Bread; Blog: Salvador Dali and the Art of Bread - [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - March 9, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Anadama Bread; Blog: Salvador Dali and the Art of Bread - [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - March 2, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Cinnamon Raisin Sourdough; Blog: Have Your Been Shriven? [ See Link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - March 2, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Cinnamon Raisin Sourdough; Blog: Have Your Been Shriven? [ See Link in Profile ] ...

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Morning Breadsong (volume up!) A pile of Salish Sourdoughs just out of Mildrith, the wood-fired oven. 
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#breadsinging #breadsong #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bakerslife #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland

Morning Breadsong (volume up!) A pile of Salish Sourdoughs just out of Mildrith, the wood-fired oven.
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#breadsinging #breadsong #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bakerslife #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland
...

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Happy Monk Tidings - February 23, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Danish Rye (Rugbrød); Blog: The Burned Loaf: And Offering and a Blessing - [ See link in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - February 23, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Danish Rye (Rugbrød); Blog: The Burned Loaf: And Offering and a Blessing - [ See link in profile ] ...

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It just needed a few more minutes. That was three hours ago. Saved my best for last!  #showusyourfuckedloaves

It just needed a few more minutes. That was three hours ago. Saved my best for last! #showusyourfuckedloaves ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - February 16, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Sourdough Sandwich Loaf; Blog: Festival of Fornacalia - All hail, Fornax! Goddess of the Ovens! [ See link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - February 16, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Sourdough Sandwich Loaf; Blog: Festival of Fornacalia - All hail, Fornax! Goddess of the Ovens! [ See link in Profile ] ...

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John-boy’s got his arms loaded with a bunch of Happy Monk bread, one of his favourite states of being. He’s generous to a fault, though, and spread the loaves around his close circle of friends. That’s m’boy!

John-boy’s got his arms loaded with a bunch of Happy Monk bread, one of his favourite states of being. He’s generous to a fault, though, and spread the loaves around his close circle of friends. That’s m’boy! ...

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The 2kg Desem miche is out of focus, in the back ‘cause it would have drowned out the little 1kg Durum Sesame loaf in front. The miche is a monster but every bit as delish as the Durum loaf! The Desem’s coming soon! Won’t be a miche, though!

The 2kg Desem miche is out of focus, in the back ‘cause it would have drowned out the little 1kg Durum Sesame loaf in front. The miche is a monster but every bit as delish as the Durum loaf! The Desem’s coming soon! Won’t be a miche, though! ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - February 9, 2022 🍞 - It's great to be back! Baker's Choice: Durum-Sesame Sourdough; Blog: To Sleep or Not to Sleep [ See link in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - February 9, 2022 🍞 - It's great to be back! Baker's Choice: Durum-Sesame Sourdough; Blog: To Sleep or Not to Sleep [ See link in profile ] ...

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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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