The soul-destroying work of a sin-eater was to consume the sins of the deceased

The Middle Ages had its fair share of terrible jobs, from cesspool cleaners to rat catchers and even royal windshield wipers, but few were as soul destroying as the job of a sin eater, which bore the weight of people’s unconfessed sins to earn their daily bread.

No one knows exactly where the concept of eating sin began, but it’s commonly associated with Christianity, even though it was never sanctioned by the Church. It could be traced back to the belief that Jesus Christ sacrificed himself to cleanse mankind of their sins, the Jewish tradition of manifesting one’s sins on a goat, or the medieval custom of nobles giving bread to the poor in exchange of their prayers for a newborn baby. deceased parent.

But whatever its origin, the practice of eating sin was most prevalent in England, Scotland and Wales from the 17 e at 19 e centuries. The God-fearing villagers of that time would quietly hire a sin eater to absorb the unconfessed sins of their beloved.

Medieval burial. Source: Erica Guilane Nachez /Adobe Stock

The sin eater would imbibe the misdeeds of the dead by eating bread placed on the corpse’s chest or face and saying, “I give you bondage and rest now, dear man/woman/child.” Do not go down the alleys or in our meadows. And for your peace, I pledge my own soul. Amen.” Once the bread was eaten, it was believed that the weight and consequences of wrongdoing passed from the deceased to the sin-eater.

Afterwards, they were often beaten or driven from the house with sticks by family members eager to get rid of the damned and cursed sin-eater, who was believed to be ravaged by the sins of the dead.

The sin eater, usually destitute, alcoholic or impoverished, has paid a high price for his work. They were looked down upon and shunned by society because they were willing to sell their souls and risk eternal damnation for just pennies.

Top image: Skull on a medieval tombstone. Source: Devnensky /Adobe Stock

By Joanna Gillan

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