sanc·​tu·​ary | \ˈsaŋ(k)-chə-ˌwer-ē \
plural sanctuaries

Definition of sanctuary 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a consecrated place: such as

a : the ancient Hebrew temple at Jerusalem or its holy of holies

b(1) : the most sacred part of a religious building (such as the part of a Christian church in which the altar is placed)

(2) : the room in which general worship services are held

(3) : a place (such as a church or a temple) for worship

2a(1) : a place of refuge and protection

(2) : a refuge for wildlife where predators are controlled and hunting is illegal

b : the immunity from law attached to a sanctuary



Definition of sanctuary (Entry 2 of 2)


: relating to or being a locality that provides limited cooperation to federal officials in the enforcement of immigration laws or policies a sanctuary jurisdiction sanctuary policies … the executive order … designed to crack down on so-called "sanctuary cities," municipalities that do not comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement … requests for assistance with identifying and deporting undocumented immigrants.— Euan McKirdy

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Did You Know?

Historically, churches have been places where fugitives could seek at least temporary protection from the law. In Anglo-Saxon England, churches and churchyards generally provided 40 days of immunity, and neither the sheriffs nor the army would enter to seize the outlaw. But gradually the right of sanctuary was eroded. In 1486 sanctuary for the crime of treason was disallowed, and sanctuary for most other crimes was severely restricted by Henry VIII and later abolished. In the 1980s many U.S. churches provided sanctuary to political refugees from Central America, and the U.S. government mostly chose not to interfere. Today, wildlife sanctuaries provide protection for the species within its boundaries, and farm-animal sanctuaries now rescue livestock from abuse and starvation.

Examples of sanctuary in a Sentence


The house was a sanctuary for runaway teens. The refugees found sanctuary when they crossed the border. The sanctuary contains the altar of sacrifice.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Our cavernous, old-fashioned wooden sanctuary didn’t have air conditioning. Alissa Wilkinson, Vox, "What two fictional Gileads can teach us about America in 2018," 12 July 2018 The park consulted with the Center for Great Apes, a non-profit great-ape sanctuary in Central Florida, to move Mei for surgery. Chabeli Herrera, miamiherald, "Monkey Jungle has reopened. Here is what has happened since the animal-abuse allegations.," 12 July 2018 The poem was engraved on a clay plaque found in the ancient Greek city of Olympia, a sanctuary on the Peloponnese peninsula and the original site of the Olympic Games, Reuters reports. Laignee Barron, Time, "Archaeologists Find What Could be the Oldest Written Record of Homer's 'Odyssey'," 11 July 2018 Today, church authorities here estimate that hundreds of people are living under sanctuary from the drug war. Jake Maxwell Watts, WSJ, "Catholic Church Opens Sanctuaries to the Hunted in Philippines Drug War," 5 July 2018 In addition to the activities, the Borowski art glass exhibit and the park's botanial gardens and wildlife sanctuary will be open. Emily Bloch,, "Fourth of July starts early in Davie," 26 June 2018 Multispecies justice aims to create better urban habitats for both humans and nonhumans—sanctuaries that encourage both biological and cultural diversity. Ursula K. Heise, WIRED, "Endangered Species and the Case for ‘Sanctuary Cities’," 10 June 2018 The city has taken firm stances for the LGBT community and reaffirmed their role as a sanctuary city. Christal Hayes, USA TODAY, "'Stormy Daniels Day': West Hollywood to award porn star a key to the city," 22 May 2018 Somerville has been a sanctuary city since 1987, but that does not mean undocumented immigrants are safe, said Matt McLaughlin, the city’s Ward 1 Alderman. Cristela Guerra,, "Somerville Rapid Response Network aims to notify community about ICE raids," 19 Apr. 2018

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

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First Known Use of sanctuary


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1985, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for sanctuary


Middle English seintuarie, sanctuarie, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin sanctuarium, from Latin sanctus

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Statistics for sanctuary

Last Updated

12 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for sanctuary

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

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More Definitions for sanctuary


sanc·​tu·​ary | \ˈsaŋk-chə-ˌwer-ē \
plural sanctuaries

Kids Definition of sanctuary

1 : a holy or sacred place

2 : a building or room for religious worship

3 : a place that provides safety or protection a wildlife sanctuary

4 : the protection from danger or a difficult situation that is provided by a safe place

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Comments on sanctuary

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


to express warning or disapproval

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