In the 15th century, the sacrament of confession, the telling of sins to clerical authority who were empowered to dispense penance as well as forgiveness, was common.  It appeared to have been a relatively public event, performed in the open, not in a “confessional box” the standard practice in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Baptismal fonts give some indication of the setting.  A late 15th-century font of the Seven Sacraments theme, in the church of St. Nicholas, Denston (Suffolk), shows a shriving pew.  The confessor sits in the pew and parishioners, depicted as two women, line up to speak with him.  A font from Badingham (Suffolk), c. 1485, shows penance being administered to a kneeling woman surrounded by a crowd of people.  Margery Kempe names specific priests as her confessors, often mentioning that she would meet the confessor in a chapel (Ch. 69).  When in Rome, where she had difficulties finding an English-speaking priest, Kempe records that God took pity and sent a vision of St. John the Evangelist to hear her confession. (Ch. 32).  A sinless state was a condition for the reception of the Eucharist, hence the importance of the ritual.  (See Ann Eljenholm Nichols, Seeable Signs: The Iconography of the Seven Sacraments, 1350-1544, Rochester, New York, 1994.)