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date: 22 October 2019


  • Iris Kockelbergh


Closet-like piece of furniture used in the Roman Catholic Church and some other liturgically ‘high’ denominations for auricular confession. Confessionals are always made out of wood, since it was thought inappropriate to use more costly materials for non-liturgical church furnishings. Several types of confessional were in existence during the Middle Ages. In the 12th century the priest was seated while the penitent knelt in front of him. From the 14th century in Sweden, where men lived alongside women in double monasteries, grilles were inserted in special recesses in the choir walls to prevent the priest from coming into contact with the sisters. The first confessional rooms, with a grille opening into the church, appeared in Portugal in the early 15th century (e.g. at Guarda Cathedral); a century later (1517–20), at S Maria, Belém, in Lisbon, the confessional room was extended to a double alcove, one for the priest and another for the penitent, connected by a grille. In the 16th century in northern Europe confessional grilles were inserted in the choir aisle windows so that confession could be made from outside the church. During the Reformation, after a number of disputes over the objectivity of confession, regulations for the sacrament were drawn up at the Council of Milan (...

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