grand penitentiary


  1. See under penitentiary(def 3).

noun, plural pen·i·ten·tia·ries.

  1. a place for imprisonment, reformatory discipline, or punishment, especially a prison maintained in the U.S. by a state or the federal government for serious offenders.
  2. Roman Catholic Church. a tribunal in the Curia Romana, presided over by a cardinal (grand penitentiary), having jurisdiction over certain matters, as penance, confession, dispensation, absolution, and impediments, and dealing with questions of conscience reserved for the Holy See.


  1. (of an offense) punishable by imprisonment in a penitentiary.
  2. of, relating to, or intended for imprisonment, reformatory discipline, or punishment.
  3. penitential.

noun plural -ries

  1. (in the US and Canada) a state or federal prison: in Canada, esp a federal prison for offenders convicted of serious crimesSometimes shortened to: pen
  2. RC Church
    1. a cleric appointed to supervise the administration of the sacrament of penance in a particular area
    2. a priest who has special faculties to absolve particularly grave sins
    3. a cardinal who presides over a tribunal that decides all matters affecting the sacrament of penance
    4. this tribunal itself


  1. another word for penitential (def. 1)
  2. US and Canadian (of an offence) punishable by imprisonment in a penitentiary

early 15c., “place of punishment for offenses against the church,” from Medieval Latin penitentiaria, from fem. of penitentiarius (adj.) “of penance,” from Latin paenitentia “penitence” (see penitence). Meaning “house of correction” (originally an asylum for prostitutes) is from 1806, short for penitentiary house (1776). Slang shortening pen is attested from 1884.

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