sac·​ri·​lege | \ ˈsa-krə-lij How to pronounce sacrilege (audio) \

Definition of sacrilege

1 : a technical and not necessarily intrinsically outrageous violation (such as improper reception of a sacrament) of what is sacred because consecrated to God
2 : gross irreverence toward a hallowed person, place, or thing

Keep scrolling for more

Why is sacrilegious not spelled sacreligious?

Sacrilegious is often used in reference to religion, or to religious things, so it is easy to see why people might be confused by its spelling. However, sacrilegious and religious are not from the same roots. Religious comes from the Latin word religio (“reverence, religion”), whereas sacrilegious and the related noun sacrilege come from Latin roots meaning “sacred” (sacr-) and “to steal” (legere).

The earliest sense of sacrilege, in use since the beginning of the 14th century, was concerned with the theft, misuse, or desecration of sacred or holy things. It still is used in this sense quite often, but has also taken on a broader meaning, in which it refers to irreverence to a person, place, or thing which may or may not have religious significance.

Examples of sacrilege in a Sentence

They accused him of committing a sacrilege. They accused him of sacrilege. an act of sacrilege against the church
See More
Recent Examples on the Web Nor is criminalizing sacrilege based on Islam’s main sacred text, the Quran. Washington Post, "Execution for a Facebook post? Why blasphemy is a capital offense in some Muslim countries," 20 Feb. 2020 Such Islamaphobic laws and policies can create the impression that Muslims are under siege and provide an excuse that punishing sacrilege is a defense of the faith. Ahmet T. Kuru, The Conversation, "Execution for a Facebook post? Why blasphemy is a capital offense in some Muslim countries," 20 Feb. 2020 Reviewers who controlled film culture’s secular narrative praised Reygadas for agnosticism that verged on sacrilege. Armond White, National Review, "Franco Zeffirelli: Unlikely Conservative Hero," 20 June 2019 At the climax, the priest destroys the altar in an act of horrifying sacrilege. Aja Romano, Vox, "Leonard Bernstein gave American music so much more than West Side Story.," 25 Aug. 2018 The two films do share a producer, Genki Kawamura, but the comparison otherwise feels like sacrilege. Justin Chang,, "Time-travel romance, but no magic, in the Japanese anime 'Fireworks'," 2 July 2018 That sounds like sacrilege, to say that all the impressive achievements of deep learning amount to just fitting a curve to data. Kevin Hartnett, The Atlantic, "How a Pioneer of Machine Learning Became One of Its Sharpest Critics," 19 May 2018 The giant speakers hanging on both sides of the stage can strike an opera fan as a sacrilege, and the amplification is at cross-purposes with the auditorium's exquisite acoustical capabilities. Deanna Isaacs, Chicago Reader, "Lyric’s Jesus Christ is, indeed, a superstar," 1 May 2018 Some consider this sacrilege, the chile masking the flavor of the fish. Ligaya Mishan, New York Times, "Rice Balls, Subtle and Showy Alike, at Omusubi Gonbei," 12 Apr. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'sacrilege.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of sacrilege

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for sacrilege

Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin sacrilegium, from sacrilegus one who robs sacred property, from sacr-, sacer + legere to gather, steal — more at legend

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about sacrilege

Time Traveler for sacrilege

Time Traveler

The first known use of sacrilege was in the 14th century

See more words from the same century

Statistics for sacrilege

Cite this Entry

“Sacrilege.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Jul. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for sacrilege


How to pronounce sacrilege (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of sacrilege

: an act of treating a holy place or object in a way that does not show proper respect

Keep scrolling for more

Comments on sacrilege

What made you want to look up sacrilege? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


See Definitions and Examples »

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

A More Exception(al) Quiz

  • hot dog  hot dog  hot dog  hot dog cat
  • Which of the following words is not a synonym for ‘a young person’?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Syn City

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!