True Confessions

Admit it … you thought this post was going to be about some deep dark secret spiced up with a dash of juicy scandal.

Sorry, but personally I’m staying on the side of the angels, but this post is all about seeking forgiveness for your sins, so feel free to belly-up to The Confessional.

Notre-Dame du Rouen

While on this most recent trip to France, it seemed we were always drifting through one church or another. There are just so many of them! … and if you know the Roman Catholic Church, then you are familiar with the Confessional.

Bruges, Belgium

To this day, the sight of a Confessional makes my gut clench a little. I went to a Catholic school run by nuns and once a month we were shepherded to the church for confession. Seriously – does your average 8 or 9 year old really have sins that need this kind of treatment?

Even then I thought it was an exercise in grooming guilt and they did a really good job of it too.

Saint Jean-Baptiste, Arras

To the non-Catholic, there is something very foreign about this ritual. Our Thursday Door Master, Norm Frampton, once made me laugh out loud when he referred to it as the Catholic penalty box.

Bruges, Belgium

I haven’t been to Confession in decades so I don’t know what the current protocol might be. I was however more than a little surprised by something I saw in a church in Arras just before Easter.

Inside one of the church alcoves, the priest was taking confession IN THE OPEN! Along the wall facing the alcove were several chairs, each occupied, mostly by elderly women, waiting for their turn!

Gone was the pretence of anonymity – quiet whispers in the dark recesses of the Confessional as typical of my youth. This was a face-to-face conversation with the priest which could be overheard even by me … although admittedly my French wasn’t good enough to determine whether there might have been some exciting details.

Saint Jacques, Dieppe

It crossed my mind that I should try to capture a few photos of this unusual scene, but decided, somewhat reluctantly, that it might be in poor taste.

Now I wonder if I should to go to Confession. Remember the guilt-thing. Even bad thoughts are a sin …

Bruges, Belgium

This post was brought to you by Thursday Doors, a weekly photo feature hosted by Norm Frampton at Norm 2.0.

Drop by, I promise that Norm will not put you in the penalty box.

105 comments

  1. Ha ha! ‘Grooming guilt’! – I have a friend or two who although wise, knowledgeable, smart etc are so hung up on the guilt thing. Guilt is an interesting dynamic but I’d still be writing into next week if I even started on the topic. (Sometimes we ‘use’ guilt to avoid the central question) – But CG Jung did say that the Roman Catholics he came across did not have much need for psychoanalysis as others -”Even so, as a Protestant, it is quite clear to me that, in its healing effects, no creed is as closely akin to pyschoanalysis as Catholicism” Interviews & Encounters 38-46.

    And the Catholic Mass, in all its depths and beauty and richness is quite something to experience, which I have once or twice .. Your photos are lovely πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow – that is really interesting. I would never have guessed that RC are more ‘anchored’. It implies that the process of ‘letting go’ of our sins is emotionally – as well as spiritually – beneficial.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I know what you mean by ‘church after church’. Part way through one of our ‘multi country – multi church’ trips, my husband and his friend started the day wearing shorts, even though the weather wasn’t very warm. The tour guide pointed out that they wouldn’t be allowed to enter the church if they wore shorts. Both men just smiled.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. LOL, at least they made the penalty boxes pretty. πŸ˜€
    Dear Joanne… If you’re going to feel guilty anyway, maybe you should go out and do something outrageous so that you at least had a good reason for it. 😈 After all, if you are eventually going to a confession then wouldn’t it also be a sin if your bored the priest?
    I’m just kidding. You are a treasure. Hugs on the wing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL!!! I had a sudden image of the priest falling asleep in the confessional because he was so bored 🀣 (… and for that, your penance is 10 extra Hail Marys … 🀣)

      Truth is, I learned my religious studies very well as a child and I’m boring as hell πŸ™‚

      Like

  4. They are quite pretty confessionals. I didn’t grow up Catholic and am not sure I’ve even noticed them in any of my touring of historic churches. I have seen them in lots of movies though!! lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the heads-up that your comments were likely going to the Spam folder. That’s exactly where I found a few of your comments!!

      I’m not sure you would even notice the confessionals unless you were looking for them. They are usually in a discreet area … I guess to keep the sinners out of view πŸ˜‰
      In the church I went to as a child, the confessionals were at the back of the church in a room behind the altar. You wouldn’t really have any reason to go back there except to go to confession.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. What beautiful penalty boxes! I shared that with the hubby – an ex-Catholic, and he thought it was perfect. I never really understood religion in general, Joanne, since I was raised by non-believers, but places of worship are beautiful, for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sorry Joanne Im having trouble adding comments. This will be in orher positions in your comments as well. Please delete them.

    We used make up sins while waiting! How absurd. I lost all of my respect for catholicism at a very early age. I’m not, however, an atheist. It’s a religion of its own. I think humans are too dumb to work it out. I’d like to refer to the Iris DeMent song β€˜Let the mystery be’ rather than go on. Check it out. If you don’t like country music just read the words. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love a song with a good beat and great lyrics – this is one of them. You and I are on the same page.

      Too many terrible things have been done over the ages in the name of religion and sadly, not much has changed.
      I prefer to think of spirituality which is all about connection rather than organized religion which is all about control.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I met Iris in a little country town here in Victoria. She sang and played beautifully. Many good religious people too. My catholic schooling was something I would rather forget. Starting to get cold here now. That means it getting warm for you so that’s good😊

        Like

        • Our spring has been late in coming. This past weekend was the first good one we’ve had.
          Unfortunately the last thing we need right now is more rain and that’s exactly what’s coming this week πŸ˜•

          Like

  7. Presbyterians confess in private and I much prefer that! πŸ™‚ There is a part in the weekly service where the minister speaks to a theme of confession – but then we do the rest in private. I once asked my Catholic friends what kind of sins an 8 or 9 year old had and it seemed to mostly be about hitting a sibling or disobeying your parents – and yes, the standard penance always seemed to be 5 Hail Marys and 5 Our Fathers! Could not even imagine the chairs lined up for that public confession but admit I would have probably eavesdropped!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The thing is, I don’t remember ever being really sorry … just annoyed because even at 8 or 9 I recognized it as human. Feeling guilty about human weakness is just wrong.

      Like

  8. Wonderful post. I fascinated by confessionals as well. I grew up Catholic (but no more) and had a set list of sins I would tell the priest whether I had actually done them or not. I thought it was safe to cover the possibilities. πŸ™‚ I always got the same penance, I think all the kids did. I was surprised when I was in Portugal last year that many in many of the old confessionals, the kneeling sinner was visible to the other people in the church.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Norm’s commentary is fab!
    They’re so pretty though. Such a tradition.
    I find that even lapsed, I feel better confessing to SOMEONE, like residual religion, I guess. I don’t even know if I believe in sin, but I believe in guilt and I don’t want it hangin on. I certainly wouldn’t do it with an audience. If you do it in front of other people, is that your penance, or is there still a penance? Good grief.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ohhh – great question about the penance. I’d be wanting the ‘time off with public confession’ kind of penance too.

      I’m with you on the whole guilt thing. I can’t imagine ever committing a terrible crime. The guilt would kill me.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. The Saint Jean-Baptiste one is rather lovely, but I think I’ll stick to misericords. Interestingly two of my three (non religious) sons have married Catholic women, but fortunately neither wedding was conducted in Latin, unlike the one I was bridesmaid to (a cousin) back in the 1960s which went on for so long I thought I was going to collapse! I have to wonder how much ‘confessing ones sins’ leads to repeat behaviour since you have been ‘forgiven’.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi Joanne, The beginning of your story made me smile (actually, all of it:). My husband has told me stories about the Roman Catholic Church and I am still not sure whether he is on the side of the angelsπŸ˜‚I have never seen a confessional until now. I don’t plan on entering the penalty box – I may never leave😊Beautiful photos!

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I was a little girl, I was horrified by the church’s teaching that we were all born with ‘original’ sin and none of us were ‘pure’. I had the ridiculous idea that I COULD be pure and my goal was to NEVER sin (ie prove the church wrong). Each declaration would last about 10 minutes before a fight would erupt with one of my siblings 😏

      Like

  12. What an interesting read Joanne! I have always wondered about confessionals, only acquainting myself with them from the movies and when visiting churches as a tourist. I agree they are beautiful but still, the concept doesn’t open up to me at all. I personally think it’s cruel to make kids confess, but I guess you have to start at an early age in order to continue as an adult. Thank you for your entertaining post 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I confess that I am relieved that I wasn’t brought up Catholic! I always have such mixed feelings about the beauty and pageantry of magnificent church buildings and rituals vs. the knowledge that the time and money could be better spent helping people. That being said, I love visiting old churches as we travel and marveling at their artistry and grandeur.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. A former co-worker, Catholic, with whom I shared an office for a few years, once spent an entire Friday afternoon as we waited for the weekend telling me about confession. I was fascinated by it all. He apparently started with the “penalty box,” but his parish back in his hometown of St. Louis eventually transitioned to sitting out in the open with a priest. He said that was the end of his confession-giving, at least at that parish! I think I’d prefer the anonymity also. Great photos, Joanne. – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of open confession since I published this post. I didn’t realize that this was the way the church had changed in the (many) years since I attended.
      I’m guessing the idea is that ‘confession’ is now supposed to be a ‘conversation/consultation’ except I’m not exactly a confiding kind of person. Anonymity works for me!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. What? No juicy salacious confessions to make? And after a title like that no less… hmmm 😦
    So much amazing woodworking and carving skills on display in all of these examples. It was also nice to see my penalty box line struck a chord. Louise usually tells me I can be a bad influence on kids, but it’s fun to know it works on grown-ups too muahahahaha.
    Next time we get together remind me to tell you the confessional joke about the priest, the choirboy, and the married lady.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh good! The promise of a joke that has potential to be naughty πŸ˜‰

      … and yes, your penalty box line really stuck with me. I shall never look at a confessional the same way again. I guess that’s why I like you … you’re a bad influence πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Hi Joanne,
    Such interesting “penalty boxes”…lovely in their craftsmanship. As a nonCatholic I never quite understood the confession thing…

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Joanne havign grown up Catholic but like you not having been in a confessional for decades, I knew exactly what the post was about. apparently we are twins as I have a very similar post in my drafts folder! I had actually forgotten about it. I chcuckled at what one might confess at 8 or 9. I’m sure you had as many big sins as I . πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is perfect! You have a confessional post in your draft folder! You must resurrect it someday (Resurrect. Get it? Yeah, groaner, I know!)

      I don’t know what kind of drivel I spewed out as a kid in the confessional, but I’m sure it wouldn’t make for riveting reading 😏

      Like

  18. When I was a young mom, I came up with what I thought was a great idea for a bumper sticker – Moms: Powered by Guilt. It seemed to me that I was being blamed for everything that was wrong with my baby/toddler/child, and not credited for anything that was right.
    After reading your post, I amend that to Catholics: Powered by Guilt. Or how about Catholic Mom: Guilt is My Super Power.
    LOL!!!!

    Deb

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Fortunately, this was not part of my past. I could, however, do an entire post on the doors to the Principal’s office (if they would let me back n those school buildings). These are beautiful structures.

    Like

  20. Like you, I had some terrifying childhood moments in confession as a Catholic schoolgirl. Thankfully I gave up the ghost of religion as soon as my mother let me. But those confessionals are wonderful to behold. Thanks for an evocative post!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. These photos are wonderful. The detail in the wood carvings around the confessionals is beautiful. Your thoughts on RC guilt are spot on to what my mother used to say about herding kids into confessionals– more for the show, less for a need to go.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I was six when I had to go into the confessional for the first time. I remember racking my brain, trying to figure out what I had done wrong that I needed to confess. Taking some pennies from my mother’s wallet seems to stand out for me. What a horrible little girl I must have been. To this day I still feel guilty. Luckily our father decided enough was enough (long story) and removed all of us from the Catholic Church. In grade two I went to public school and the United Church. Most of my family stopped attending church after a few years, except for me. I had my confirmation, got married in the church and baptized all my children. After our church was consumed by fire, twice and eventually torn down I too stopped going to church but I still feel that guilt.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. My gut gets a knot too – and I have respect and love for my catholic friends – but feel they have certain “religious practices” that pull from a relationship with God and also –/ well
    Enough of that!
    And it is sad about the current events with the abuse – but enough of that!
    This was a culture rich take on doors because these churches and Catholicism is indeed a part of history and the ornate details still stand out (not sure I like it that ornate) but enjoy learning and seeing these well built structures πŸ˜ŠπŸ‘»

    Like

    • Interesting what you say about not being sure you like the ornate detail. When I was younger I absolutely didn’t like ornate detail. To me it was fussy and ‘old-fashioned’. Even now my home leans heavily towards clean, unembellished lines, however the older I get, the more I appreciate the magnificence of these very ornate structures.

      Liked by 1 person

      • And there is a lot to appreciate – but without being long winded I just want to say that sometimes I see “religiosity” when I see these structures and as I counselor I see so many folks wounded by “religion” which is not the same thing as spirituality and faith. I do see that man-made religion can offer support and coping help (like lighting a candle for loved ones gives people this comfort and hope) but too often I see religious institutions as leaving people less independent and not in a personal relationship with God.
        Or the focus is on the building and the outward behaviors with exclusivity and conformity – okay – enough – so when I see these structures – many times my counselor side sees them akin to prison bars

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  24. As much as I like those penalty boxes, I’m glad it is now face to face. I’ve heard stories that it was a priest inside the box but a prankster😳 Love thom as a furniture tho

    Liked by 1 person

  25. I guess if you go to confession, it might as well be in a beautiful box. We’re Lutheran, so we do our confession directly to the big Guy. πŸ™‚ Your story reminds me of “Blue Bloods”, one of my favorite TV shows, where Tom Selleck’s character goes to confession and of course both parties know the other one.

    janet

    Liked by 1 person

    • Apparently I was the last one to hear that the Confessional box is now obsolete and the church has embrace an ‘open’ approach.
      I like the whole private-conversation-with-the-Big-Guy myself.

      Like

      • Sorry misplaced this one too. I can fix up some typos.

        We used make up sins while waiting! How absurd. I lost all of my respect for catholicism at a very early age. I’m not, however, an atheist. It’s a religion of its own. I think humans are too dumb to work it out. I’d like to refer to the Iris DeMent song β€˜Let the mystery be’ rather than go on. Check it out. If you don’t like country music just read the words. 😊

        Like

  26. I went to the penalty box like clock work just like you did as a child with either my chapel veil or a tissue bobby pinned to my hair. πŸ™‚ Never, ever have I gone to one in the open but that was how they were doing it the last time I went in the confessional. The confessional doors that you captured are beautiful, mysterious, and my oh my what stories they could tell. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Omg, yes! Those stupid veils or hated tissues pinned to our hair … wasn’t that just a punishment in itself? The shame …

      I must be the last Catholic on the planet to hear about open confessionals. I can’t believe people really think this is a good idea.

      Like

      • We used make up sins while waiting! How absurd. I lost all of my respect for catholicism at a very early age. I’m not, however, not an atheist. It’s a religion of its own. I think humans are too dumb to work it out. I’d like to refer to the Iris DeMent song ‘Let the mystery be’ rather than go on. Check it out. If you don’t like country music just read the words. 😊

        Like

  27. Oh, Joanne, my friend. Catholic school girl here. Grammar school and high school–that’s 12 years of nuns! I remember being prepared for First Holy Communion and having to go to confession. I am so sure most of us made up stuff and then did the penance: One Our Father and three Hail Mary’s. Yes, open confession became a thing many years ago. So I hear. Been decades for me, too. But the memories never go away….I so enjoyed this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am so late in catching up with reformations in the Confessional!! I still can’t believe open confession became a thing! As a former privacy professional, I’m appalled! … but only slightly.

      We fallen Catholic girls have to stick together πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  28. Fantastic photos, Joanne. The woodworking is exquisite, especially the asymmetrical confessional from Saint Jacques, Dieppe.

    Next time, brush up on your French. I want all the dirt! Every last morsel!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really liked that one from Dieppe too. I had a couple of photos to choose from and it was a tough choice.

      I thought about the whole eavesdropping thing and I’ve satisfied myself with the thought that these were ‘elderly’ women and therefore how much sinning do you really think was going on? Perhaps a little too much sacramental wine? I’m pretty sure I could up the ante on that one πŸ˜‰

      Like

  29. When my mother remarried in her 60s she became a Catholic. She told me how difficult it was to think up a sin for confession. I remember one sin was breaking off a piece of plant in a nursery to grow at home. Hopefully her sin was forgiven!

    Liked by 3 people

    • The one thing I always struggled with was the church’s primary focus on how ‘bad’ we were and yet wasn’t our life supposed to be a celebration because it was a gift given to us by God? There were simply too many contradictions for me to wrap my head around.

      Kudos to your mom for trying to become a Catholic at that point in her life! Not the easiest thing to do!

      Like

  30. The sacrament (which used to always be celebrated publicly!) is about reconciliation with the Lord and being in true communion with Him and others. The real penalty box is in hell, forever — I’d just as soon be a little uncomfortable temporarily in this life. (Also, one can always request totally private confession behind a screen.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I wrote this post I recognized there was the possibility that some might be offended by it. I hope you haven’t been.

      I’ve been away from the church for so long, I no longer understand all the changes that have occurred. Thank you for your clarification. Of course it makes total sense that a parishioner’s choice of how to confess would be respected.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh heavens, no — I’m not offended, and I know that wasn’t your intent. And I’d have to agree that, as a child, confession was fairly ooky! I never really grasped the part about absolution or reconciliation until many decades into my adulthood. I’m just saddened, I guess. The Church gets a bum rap, but worse, it does, has, and always will house the very Body and Blood of the Lord, so, when someone leaves This, to Whom do they go? What hearth can compare? Anyway, thank you for being kind as well as honest. πŸ™‚

        Like

  31. This is quite a collection of penalty boxes, Joanne. Reminds me of when we did a tour of Spain and were herded around church after church. Finding ourselves alone at one point, I went and sat in the priest’s seat and hubby snapped a shot of me. I thought it was a joke but when my dad saw the photo, he was so cross with me and said I shouldn’t have done that and I would be punished. He was brought up a Catholic and although he’d not been inside a church for years, he still had that fear instilled in him as a child.

    Liked by 1 person

    • On the other hand, there is no way on God’s green earth I’m going to open my soul in a public place …

      … but the traditional Confessional wasn’t working for me either so I guess it’s a moot point πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  32. Love the confessional as penalty box and love this novel take on the Thursday door challenge. I think of the confessional as a washing machine- dirty going in, clean coming out.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. I think Penalty Box is a fitting term for the confessional Joanne 🀣 Being a Roman Catholic ofItalian descent myself I could say with complete certainty Catholics are all about guilt 🀣🀣🀣

    Liked by 2 people

  34. Love this post, Joanne…I laughed all the way through. You’re right about kids and sins…As a kid, I never had sins to confess…I used to think that perhaps I should make some up but then that would be creating a sin..so instead I would go with the tried and true, I hit my sister…that always worked. I wanted in and out of the confessional as quickly as possible…those dark velvet curtains, wood sliding door when the priest appeared and the heavy incense smell was enough to keep me on the straight and narrow. I never went to Catholic school but my first teaching job was at a Catholic school and during Holy Week, confession was done out in the open…I thought it was to quickly push all the kids through and to watch for any antics, but maybe this is a new approach for the church. Can’t wait to visit France. Love following along with you. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

  35. The confessionals are beautiful. It would almost be a shame to stop using them πŸ™‚
    I had a very Presbyterian upbringing and was always a bit envious of Catholic friends who could confess and move on (so it seemed to me).

    Liked by 2 people

    • That was actually a laugh out loud comment – moving on. Yeah … not so much. Too much of the guilt thing going on.
      I just had a horrible thought …. maybe it was just me who picked up all the guilt and everyone else did move on!!! 😳

      Like

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