Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Last Of The Sin-Eaters

I found out something utterly fascinating  a short while ago, and thought my readers might also find it interesting.....  an interesting legacy from  mediaeval times.

This is the grave of the last known "sin-eater" in Britain.
The grave is in Ratlinghope Churchyard, near Church Stretton on the Long Mynd, Shropshire.

Richard Munslow appears to have taken on the job after the tragic deaths of three of his children  during a Whooping Cough outbreak.

Sin Eaters were paid a small amount to eat bread and drink ale across the body of someone who had died suddenly, before having chance to confess and repent, taking on their sins so the deceased person would arrive before God in a clean and pure state.

It was prevalent mainly in the Marches, the land around the England-Wales border, and in north Wales, but was rarely carried out anywhere else.  The Shropshire writer, Mary Webb, referred to sin-eating in her novels.
The custom mainly died out in the 19th Century, being heavily frowned upon by the Church and Richard Munslow was the last known sin-eater, dying himself in 1906.
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Laura said...

This tradition also appeared here in America, primarily in Appalachia. I read a book about it, called, "The Sin Eater." I can't remember the author, unfortunately...

Meg said...

This reminds me of something I read in "Father Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father," where a Bishop wants to confess, and when Fr. Arseny hears his confession, he is so appalled that he refuses absolution to the Bishop. The Bishop begs him to carry the confession to another priest, should he ever be released from the Gulag, and notes that there was a tradition in the Russian military that someone dying on the battlefield could confess his sins to a fellow soldier, who would then repeat that confession before a priest for absolution. So while the Western Churches might have frowned on "sin-eating," it does have precedents (though what the bread and ale had to do with it, I'd love to know!).