Confessional the cell in which the Romish confessor sits to hear confessions. It is erected within the church, with a boarded back against the wall, or against a pillar or pier, and is divided into three niches. The center, which is intended for the priest, is closed half-way up by a dwarf door, and has a seat within it.
There is a small grated aperture in each of the partitions between the priest and the side-cells, which are for those who come to confess. The earliest laws which give a prescription concerning the place where confession (q.v.) is to be made, provide that such places shall be open so that they may be seen by all. Nuns according to a decree of the Synod of Paris of 829, must confess before the altar in the presence of witnesses not standing off very far. The first traces of confessionals as they are now in use in the Church of Rome are found in the second half of the 16th century, when several synods (Cosenza, 1579; Malfi. 1591) enjoined that every church should have as many confessionals and confessors (priests hearing confessions) as were necessary, which, however, should be so conspicuous that both the priest and the confessing person could be seen without difficulty by every one in the Church. —Herzog, Real-Encykl. 2:786. SEE SHRIVING-PEW.