History’s Worst Freelance Job? A Village’s Sin Eater

Hired hands would have to 'absorb' dead people's sins

July 16, 2017 5:00 am

Freelancing is a tough enough life in 2017. But one gig stands among history’s worst—both for the smell and consequences.

Per Atlas Obscura, in the United Kingdom in the 18th and 19th century, families whose loved ones had recently died would position a piece of bread on the decomposing corpse and then hire a man to sit in front of it—and then eat the bread.

But there was a catch: the bread had supposedly soaked up all the dead person’s sins, and in eating the bread, the freelancer—a.k.a. sin-eater—would himself absorb the sins into his own body.

Of course, back then, this was emotionally devastating work, as people were much more devout and believed that sin could infect both body and soul. Because of this fact, sin-eaters tended to be incredibly poor individuals with no other work prospects.

And as far as compensation went, sin-eating paid horribly; according to the publication, a single sin-eating session would earn someone the equivalent of a few U.S. dollars.

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