Tuesday 18 June 2024

Shropshire Church Crawling Gems

Sifting through all the photos from my annual holiday church crawl, I've picked out these which I hope people find to be of interest.

It's a fairly unremarkable grave isn't it. Certainly not one I'd normally stop for, but this required a drive along a rather steep and winding road along the edge of Long Mynd to reach in a tiny village called Ratlinghope which is in the back of the beyond. So what are we actually looking at here? It's the grave of Richard Munslow [1833-1906] who was a local farmer and supposedly the last sin eater in the area. Sin eating stretches back a long way and was used in cases where people died suddenly without having giving their final confession. Usually a poor person was paid to eat bread and drink ale from a wooden bowl passed over the deceased's coffin at the funeral. By doing so he had taken away the deceased's sins symbolically. It wasn't a practice that the church approved of, but it went ahead anyway. It seems very late in the day for people to still be continuing with this sort of thing, but the thinking is that perhaps this chap revived it following the tragic loss of three of his young children to Scarlet Fever all within a single week.

These faded paper confections hang in the church in Minsterley. Each one is about 300 years old and it's incredible that something made of paper should have survived. I know these as Virgin's Crowns, but they are also called Maiden's Garlands, Love Tokens or Cransties in Derbyshire. They were made in memory of local, unmarried women [and men in Hampshire] who were known to be of good character and virginal. During the funeral they were placed on top of the coffin and then sometimes put into the grave or displayed in the church as here. These examples have been cleaned and stabilised. It is a post Reformation custom.

Bygones of a lost era.



  1. I'd read about sin eaters. I forget which blogs sent me off on that tangent. Perhaps it was yours. But I never heard of the crowns. Very moving.

  2. A male sin eater and so late in the day, how interesting! I read an excellent novel, The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi last year.
    Those paper arrangements are new to me, good to see unmarried women celebrated rather than burnt as witches! xxx

  3. 2 sad, but rather wonderful things. Thank you for sharing them.

  4. That is a long and devoted trek to see an unusual grave (how did you even know about such a person). I had never heard of the crowns - so many older customs we have completely lost in this age.


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