Adventure-a-Day/ England except London/ Thoughts on travel

The Last Sin-Eater of England: Adventure-a-Day #13

I don’t have a good picture to post (yet) and I haven’t had this adventure (yet) but since it’s day 13, I will just dip my toe into a topic that sounds creepy but probably isn’t.

Sin eating.

Apparently there’s a pretty bad movie (I haven’t seen it) called The Last Sin Eater, starring Heath Ledger. Must watch it.

I was doing some genealogy research, don’t even remember what or why, and found myself reading about the last sin-eater of England, Richard Munslow who died around 1906 near Ratlinghope in Shropshire. Recently a campaign was successfully undertaken to restore his neglected family grave.

A very kind lady sent me a batch of newspaper clippings and her own personal notes. I will use these and credit her fully when I write the story properly, but first I would really like to get to Ratlinghope to see for myself.

In the meantime, I should explain that sin-eating was a custom where a person (the sin-eater) could be hired to “eat the sins” of a recently deceased person. The procedure was that the sin-eater would eat and drink something beside or over the body of the person before interment. In this eating, the sins of the deceased would be transferred to the sin-eater, who would then have the spiritual burden they entailed.

I’ve read that often sin-eaters were paupers who needed the money. I don’t think that was true in this case.

Richard was a farmer, not a pauper. He was married with children.

Several of his children died within a short period, and though he and his wife had more later, the loss must have been devastating.

My thinking is that Richard Munslow may have been a very spiritual man, or a very depressed one, or both. He may have blamed himself for the childrens’ death (I am only theorizing here), thinking, “What have I done to offend God so much that he’s taken my children away?” Doing the work of relieving others of their sins could be seen to be a highly commendable spiritual act. After all, the Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world, in Christianity.

Or, the explanation may be the exact opposite. Perhaps Munslow was never religious, or perhaps he was angry with God and wanted to show his contempt. In that case, eating others’ sins would be easy, because the sin-eater wouldn’t care about his own soul. He wouldn’t have believed in a life everlasting or the existence of a soul.

I don’t know, perhaps will never know, if either of these explanations is even close to the truth.

Travel Tip: Doing research in a topic you find interesting can provide you with a unique travel quest. There’s no reason on earth I would have chosen to go to Ratlinghope, but because I now know about Richard Munslow, I’ve looked at the place more closely. It appears to be a beautiful little village in a rural part of Shropshire that I think might offer some opportunities for pleasant walks, as well as some examining of the graveyard, church, and former Munslow farms.

It doesn’t matter what you’re interested in. My example comes from family history because I spend a lot of time doing it.

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