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Greetings from St. Francis and Mildrith

It’s morning, birdsong, and St. Francis blesses the bake.

Early mornings in front of Mildrith, as I sweep out the ashes and load the hearth with bread, I feel the presence of St. Francis, the saint statue resting on the wall of the oven shelter.

It’s little more than a block of concrete cast into the likeness of St. Francis of Assisi, the venerated saint from the 13th century. He stands in friar’s robes; in the crook of each arm, he holds two birds; a fawn lies at his feet. He looks soberly at the ground in front of him; his eyes averted from the beholder as many depictions of monks do.

Years ago, Jennifer and I bought the statue for our garden in Vancouver. There were five identical St. Francis statues on display in the statuary section of the Home Depot, where we bought him.

Chief production supervisor, Happy Monk Baking Company

St. Francis has followed us around, and right now, he’s chief production supervisor for the Happy Monk Baking Company. And a little bit more: a supervisor with benefits.

I have an affinity with St. Francis. He’s at peace, there on the wall as I work away. He’s there at birdsong, which appeals to his love of birds. Deers often watch Francis and me from the back forty, fawns, does and bucks alike.

He’s a steadfast companion in those morning shifts. A silent presence, a pillar of strength, a blessing of hope and forbearance. If a misshapen loaf emerges from Mildrith or one with a charred bottom, he reminds me not to berate myself. “It is bread,” he says. “It is the staff of life, and it will feed the people.”

This is my heartfelt confession, though I’m not a religious baker. My St. Francis has little to do with the dogma and history of the Church, which keeps me at arm’s length from his canonization and significant presence in the lives of the saints. He’s a spiritual presence for me, a companion, and I’m grateful he’s always with me at the oven.

Adoration and strangeness

Renunciation of Worldly Goods (Francis stands naked before his angry father)

St. Francis and I have a little bit of history, though.

In 2006, Jennifer and I visited the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the Church he founded. It was a strange, beautiful visit, encapsulating the beauty of the St. Francis story and the inherent strangeness of his adoration there.

Despite the heat of the day we visited, the throng of tourists was almost overwhelming. Jennifer and I joined them on tours. They were hot and impatient with the guide. When the time was finished, they quickly dispersed to the slanted cloister with souvenir booths, art exhibits and lute music. They bought ice cream, drank Sanpellegrino Limonata, smoked cigarettes and eyed the religious trinkets for sale in the shaded perimeter.

On the tour, Jennifer and I were transfixed by the series of 28 frescoes by the great Renaissance painter, Giotto, collectively known as The Legend of St. Francis, in the Basilica. Instead of the souvenirs and ice cream, we returned to the Upper Basilica 1

Comic book panels on the wall of the church

The paintings were breathtaking as they detailed the high moments in the St. Francis story. Such as his conversion to Christianity, his renunciation of worldly goods, and the dream of Pope Innocent III in which St. Francis supports a tilting church. Many panels are filled with people whose faces are marked with disbelief, amazement, suspicion, and deceit. All manner of human emotion.

There were no words; the life of St. Francis was told in colourful detail by one of the greatest painters of the Italian Renaissance. Like comic book panels painted right on the walls of the Church.

Jennifer and I were alone in the Basilica at that point, stopping at each panel and feasting our eyes — Jennifer, me and Giotto di Bondone. The images were a little higher than eye level, and we could reach up and touch them if we were bold enough. We weren’t brave enough, and we didn’t touch. But it was astonishing to think we could.

Detail from the Renunciation of Wordly Goods

Camcorder carrying monks

Outside, I was struck by a large number of religious people. Priests, monks and nuns milled with the tourists, many carrying cameras and video camcorders. I remember watching two heavily clothed nuns sitting, in the intense heat, at the top of the cloister, holding their purses and chatting happily, thrilled to be at the Church of St. Francis. The monks must have been Franciscans, and the nuns were of the Order of Clare.

Those high moments by Giottos were tempered, though, when we found our way into the Lower Basilica. I don’t remember much of this part of our tour except walking past the crypt of St. Francis. His bones, the remnants of his earthly presence nearly 800 years earlier, were mere feet away!

What was strange was a seating area by the crypt that was occupied, at the time, by quite a few nuns. Most were seated, their heads bowed in silent prayer. A few knelt next to the crypt, visible only through an ornate, marbled fence.

One nun wept; all of them looked sombre, burdened by St. Francis’ outsized presence. Some, next to the crypt, were reaching up through the fence so their arms and hands could be closer to St. Francis’ relics. It was as if they were grasping for some kind of energy, whether healing, love, or miracle.

Reaching for blackened bones

I imagined a small set of blackened bones inside a box in the crypt. This was so foreign and so utterly strange that I wanted to leave immediately. I wanted to jump into the ocean and wash the image and experience from my mind.

I realize this adoration, this reverence for the religious reliquary, is genuine to those devoted to the Catholic Church. 2. And what I witnessed was a glimpse — a sliver of a view inside the lives of some who’ve devoted themselves to the Christian faith. It felt like being lost in a foreboding forest that I needed to find my way out of. This is not intended to be judgmental, only that it was strange to me. Seeing the nuns in front of the crypt felt like I was intruding on something very private, and I had no right to be there!

Ciao Bella!

But we were in Italy, after all! And it was all too easy to leave Assisi behind! On the way back to Todi, Jennifer and I and our two sons walked into a wine museum (Torgiano, Umbria) just a short way down the road. We ate impossibly large amounts of pasta in Todi, boar sausage in Spoleto, wine in Orvieto and came to appreciate espresso and cornetti served throughout Umbria and Tuscany for breakfast. We also fell in love with Pane Comune, Umbrian bread made without salt. (It’s not for everyone!) 3

It was a long time until I thought of St. Francis again. Perhaps it was at the Home Depot, considering Jennifer’s idea of buying the concrete statue of him.

He looked good in the garden. But there was something in the serenity of his face that appealed to me. The stillness of his robes, his downward glance, the birds nestled in his arms. I think it was a more meaningful image of Francis than the blackened bones and the praying nuns around them.

The stillness of his robes

So Francis was packed, along with a Celtic Cross and a laughing Buddha, when we came to Pender in 2011. His first spot was in our front garden under the arbutus tree. And when the Happy Monk Baking Company started up, he moved, under his own volition, to the wall inside the oven shelter. Next to Mildrith. A match made in heaven.

They’re always there to say good morning to me on bake mornings: Mildrith’s fiery chambers, Francis’ calm presence.

They are from the earth and of the earth and baked into the bread.


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#apples #applebread #applelove #approachable #approachableloaf #breadlabcollective #breadlab

Happy Monk Tidings - September 28, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; Blog: This Island of Apples; South Pender Growers and Makers Market [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
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#apples #applebread #applelove #approachable #approachableloaf #breadlabcollective #breadlab
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#penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery
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This is James Morton, my father, who would have been 100 years old today if we hadn't lost him 36 years ago. I've surpassed him in living age and spent more years without him than with him, yet he still whispers in my ear and is a great listener when I talk to him. Taken at 14th Ave. and Burgess St., Burnaby, 'round about 1955. Handsome devil, ain't he?

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How many times have I seen these loaves tumble out of the oven! If I’m not in a rush, I like to pile them up and just stand near them a moment, feeling their heat, hearing them crackle, their glorious warm aroma! Seems like a miracle, been working hard since the dark hours of morning, heard the first birdsong, seen freighters moving silently through Boundary Pass, a gentle breeze coming up from the ocean. I know I’ll pay for all this later in the day with fatigue and there’ll be several days catching up with sleep. Is it worth it all? Three years into Happy Monk Baking, I still say yes. Happy sleeping, everyone!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #rusticbread, #breadhead, #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland

How many times have I seen these loaves tumble out of the oven! If I’m not in a rush, I like to pile them up and just stand near them a moment, feeling their heat, hearing them crackle, their glorious warm aroma! Seems like a miracle, been working hard since the dark hours of morning, heard the first birdsong, seen freighters moving silently through Boundary Pass, a gentle breeze coming up from the ocean. I know I’ll pay for all this later in the day with fatigue and there’ll be several days catching up with sleep. Is it worth it all? Three years into Happy Monk Baking, I still say yes. Happy sleeping, everyone!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #rusticbread, #breadhead, #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland
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Fun at 4 in the morning … first load of bread in the oven, first light, first birdsong, making the treacherous walk back inside with a tower of bannetons. In the rain.
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#bakerslife #bakersofinstagram #baking #baker #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #bread #sourdoughbread #sourdough #bbga #realbread #naturallyleavened #artisanbread #artisanbreadbaker #rusticbread #breadhead #breadlove #breadhour #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries

Fun at 4 in the morning … first load of bread in the oven, first light, first birdsong, making the treacherous walk back inside with a tower of bannetons. In the rain.
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#bakerslife #bakersofinstagram #baking #baker #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #bread #sourdoughbread #sourdough #bbga #realbread #naturallyleavened #artisanbread #artisanbreadbaker #rusticbread #breadhead #breadlove #breadhour #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries
...

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Happy Monk Tidings - June 1, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Fig and Fennel Sourdough; Happy Monk Blog: The Golden City [ LinkTree in Profile ]

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Post to The Happy Monk Baking Company
Happy Monk Tidings - May 25, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Sprouted Kamut Bread; Blog: A Paean to Rye Bread: Deeply Felt and Honest [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Post to The Happy Monk Baking Company
Happy Monk Tidings - May 25, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Sprouted Kamut Bread; Blog: A Paean to Rye Bread: Deeply Felt and Honest [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
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  1. Our tourist guide says there were originally 46 fresco paintings, but many of them were cracked, destroyed or damaged beyond recognition. Some had been ruined by an earthquake in 1997, eight years before we were there.

  2. St. Francis’ renown goes beyond Catholicism and into some corners of the Protestant Church, in particular, some monastic orders founded on the teachings of St. Francis. See this entry about Francis of Assisi. (2022, September 17) in Wikipedia.

  3. We also saw Eric Clapton and the blues guitarist Robert Cray play under a moonlit sky at the Perugia Jazz Festival. There is actually a series of YouTube Videos of this concert. Click here to see some of it!

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