Shropshire

Last 'sin-eater' celebrated with church service

The Reverend Norman Morris at Richard Munslow's grave
Image caption The Reverend Norman Morris led the service for Richard Munslow

The restored grave of the last known "sin-eater" in England has been at the centre of a special service in a Shropshire village churchyard.

Campaigners raised £1,000 to restore the grave of Richard Munslow, who was buried in Ratlinghope in 1906.

Sin-eaters were generally poor people paid to eat bread and drink beer or wine over a corpse, in the belief they would take on the sins of the deceased.

Frowned upon by the church, the custom mainly died out in the 19th Century.

It was prevalent in the Marches, the land around the England-Wales border, and in north Wales, but was rarely carried out anywhere else.

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.

While most of the sin-eaters were poor people or beggars, Mr Munslow was a well-established farmer in the area.

The Reverend Norman Morris, the vicar of Ratlinghope, a village of about 100 residents on the Long Mynd near Church Stretton, led the "God's Acre" service at St Margaret's Church.

Mr Morris said: "It was a very odd practice and would not have been approved of by the church but I suspect the vicar often turned a blind eye to the practice."

Locals began the collection to restore the grave, which had fallen into disrepair in recent years, believing it would be good to highlight the custom and Mr Munslow's place in religious history.

It took a few months to raise the £1,000 needed to pay for the work, carried out by local stonemason Charles Shaw.

Mr Morris said: "This grave at Ratlinghope is now in an excellent state of repair but I have no desire to reinstate the ritual that went with it."

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