I had not heard of sin eaters until I read Master and Commander, the first of Patrick O Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin books Master and Commander. It came as a bit of a surprise to read that the very last of them lived on into the 20th century.
According to the BBC the grave of the last known sin-eater in England was at the centre of a special service in a Shropshire village churchyard after campaigners raised £1,000 to restore the grave of Richard Munslow, who was buried in Ratlinghope in 1906.
Sin-eaters were usually among the very poor who were paid to eat bread and drink beer or wine over a corpse, in the belief they would take on the sins of the deceased.
Believers thought the sin-eater taking on the sins of a person who died suddenly without confessing their sins would allow the deceased's soul to go to heaven in peace.
The custom was prevalent in the Marches, the land around the England-Wales border, and in north Wales, but was rarely carried out anywhere else. It had largely died out during the 19th Century
Strangely Mr Munslow was a well-established farmer in the area rather than a beggar and of course survive to the 20th century.
Fascinating stuff… well I think so!