Sin-eating: Arguably the worst job ever created

An English funeral scene from the early 1700s. (RearFront pic)

It’s seriously time to stop complaining about your current job.

If you were born back in the dark ages, you could very well have been one of those who were paid to eat the sins of those who died.

It sounds bizarre but yes, this was a legit job back then and the people paid to do this were quite simply called “sin-eaters”.

So what would a typical assignment for a sin-eater entail?

According to the website RearFront, after “God-fearing” families and friends grieved at an unfortunate man’s deathbed, they would place a piece of bread on the corpse’s chest and direct a sin-eater to eat it.

The people believed the bread soaked up all the sins of the dead man (or woman) and that whoever ate the bread, would in essence be eating up all the sins of the departed, leaving them cleansed and ready to enter heaven.

Morbid but practical in medieval times

Morbid it may be but eating sin-laden bread off a corpse’s chest was probably regarded by most sin-eaters as an occupational hazard and nothing more.

Since earning a living, no matter how meagre or twisted was the only means to put food on the table, it was pointless for sin-eaters to ruminate about the state of their own souls, or if they were headed straight to hell on account of all the sins they had consumed – literally and figuratively.

Sin-eating was a legit job back in the dark ages. (Devian art, Tilinghast23 pic)

In fact sin-eaters were crucial to societies living in most parts of Britain during the medieval times as they were relied on to carry out two functions – to save someone’s soul from burning in hell, and to prevent a dead man’s spirit from roaming the Earth as a ghost.

But like lepers, sin-eaters were treated like outcasts by society.

Generally considered as evil as Satan himself on account of the heaps of sins they consumed, sin-eaters lived in isolation, reviled by the very people who paid them to eat the sins of others.

The tradition of sin-eating however declined in the 19th Century as people became more educated and hence enlightened, and were more open to do away with old and silly practices.

But if the practice were ever revive, would any of us be game to earn a living as a sin-eater?