Thursday, May 15, 2008


For my place theme, I plan to investigate a confessional. So far, all of the active churches that we have visited have had confessionals in them. All of the confessionals have been large, wooden boxes. The image above is from San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains). It is a church in the Esquiline neighborhood in Rome. The church has chains on display that are said to be those that held Saint Peter in the Mamertine Prison before his execution (2). The confessional in San Pietro in Vincoli has an enclosed space in the middle where the priest would sit to hear confessions. Those who confess are to kneel at the side of the confessional box and tell the priest of their sins.

On Tuesday of this week, we visited Sant'Ignazio di Loyola (the Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola). It is a Jesuit church of an impressive scale. It contains several large marble reliefs and a magnificently painted ceiling (3). The confessionals at Saint Ignatius were positioned in the front portion of the church, near the altar. At Saint Peter in Chains, the confessional boxes were located in the back of the church near the doors. I am curious if there is a reason for this positioning. It could be a coincidence or a simple spatial necessity, but it could also be related to the philosophical bents of the sects who run each church. Saint Ignatius is still in use and while we were visiting there was a ceremony occurring in one of the alcoves on the side of the church. The confessional at Saint Ignatius was a bit more elaborate than those at Saint Peter in Chains. One would enter entirely into the box to ask for forgiveness at Saint Ignatius. The priest, sits in a separate room inside the box and hears the confessions of the faithful.

I am making it a goal to find a church with an active confessional that I can visit on a regular basis to get an idea of how the sacrament of confession is practiced in Rome, and if possible, how its practice influences or is influenced by the confessional boxes and the spaces they inhabit.

1. Fiona Wild, ed., Eye Witness Travel Rome (London: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 1993), 2007 edition, 170.
2. Wild, 91.
3. Wild, 106.

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