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sanc·​tu·​ary ˈsaŋ(k)-chə-ˌwer-ē How to pronounce sanctuary (audio)
plural sanctuaries
: a consecrated place: such as
: the ancient Hebrew temple at Jerusalem or its holy of holies
: the most sacred part of a religious building (such as the part of a Christian church in which the altar is placed)
: the room in which general worship services are held
: a place (such as a church or a temple) for worship
: a place of refuge and protection
: a refuge for wildlife where predators are controlled and hunting is illegal
: the immunity from law attached to a sanctuary


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: 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

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.

Example Sentences

Noun The house was a sanctuary for runaway teens. The refugees found sanctuary when they crossed the border. The sanctuary contains the altar of sacrifice.
Recent Examples on the Web
Thanksgiving came early for dozens of adorable dogs at the Best Friends Animal Society's sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. Ingrid Vasquez, Peoplemag, 23 Nov. 2022 The primary suite bedroom and bathroom became a sanctuary. Sarah Yang, Sunset Magazine, 22 Nov. 2022 Next year, as drought is projected to intensify and the nearby bird sanctuary plans to flood more ponds than in years past, the mosquito problem stands to intensify. Paighten Harkins, The Salt Lake Tribune, 22 Nov. 2022 The setting was Kaori, a small sanctuary-like space dedicated to the making and enjoyment of incense that opened in April within Ogata Paris, the three-floor Japanese store, tearoom and restaurant in the city’s Marais neighborhood. Alice Cavanagh, New York Times, 21 Nov. 2022 Established in 1967, the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center is a 155-acre urban nature sanctuary just miles from downtown Houston and adjacent to Memorial Park. Rebecca Treon, Chron, 19 Nov. 2022 The chapel also gives the congregation a sanctuary to call its own. Peter Smith, ajc, 17 Nov. 2022 Zaleski’s mother dreamed of opening a sanctuary for hundreds of animals. Allison Cho, Washington Post, 17 Nov. 2022 The outpouring of support for the arrivals appeared to be a moment of pride for Mayor Jim Kenney, who pushed the city to become a sanctuary for immigrants in 2018. Alicia Victoria Lozano, NBC News, 17 Nov. 2022 See More

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.

Word History



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

First Known Use


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1985, in the meaning defined above

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

Dictionary Entries Near sanctuary

Cite this Entry

“Sanctuary.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Nov. 2022.

Kids Definition



sanc·​tu·​ary ˈsaŋ(k)-chə-ˌwer-ē How to pronounce sanctuary (audio)
plural sanctuaries
: a holy or sacred place
: the most sacred part of a place of worship
: a building or room for religious worship
: a place that provides shelter or protection
a wildlife sanctuary
: protection provided by a sanctuary

More from Merriam-Webster on sanctuary

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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