ST MARGARET, RATLINGHOPE, SHROPSHIRE
Ratlinghope is about as remote as you get in Shropshire, one of England’s most unspoilt counties. The best time to see it is spring; coming from Church Stretton you cross the Long Mynd – very slowly, making way for sheep and their gambolling lambs. Entering the churchyard you see a plethora of wildflowers.
The church itself is a simple building, with boarded bell turret (likely 17th c.), but before you reach the porch, stop and look at the recently-restored grave of Richard Munslow (1833-1906). A local farmer, he was the last ‘sin-eater’; a ‘sin-eater’, usually a poor person, would attend the funeral of a person who had died without confessing their sins. The ‘sin-eater’ would eat a loaf of bread and drink ale from a bowl passed to them over the coffin, and acknowledge that they were taking on the sins of the departed so that they could find peace. No one knows how this arose; it may have been a survival of the mediaeval custom in which people would leave a bequest to poor people to attend their funeral to pray for the repose of their souls. Munslow may have been motivated by the loss of four of his children when very young, three within one week during an outbreak of scarlet fever.
The church is also distinguished for an East window by Powell’s in the Arts and Crafts style, showing Christ among the doctors. Ratlinghope is a reminder of the unexpected rewards to be found in visiting the most isolated churches.
Map Reference: SO 403969