sanc·​tu·​ary | \ ˈsaŋ(k)-chə-ˌwer-ē How to pronounce sanctuary (audio) \
plural sanctuaries

Essential Meaning of sanctuary

1 : a place where someone or something is protected or given shelter wildlife/bird sanctuaries The house was a sanctuary for runaway teens.
2 : the protection that is provided by a safe place The refugees found/sought sanctuary when they crossed the border.
3 US : the room inside a church, synagogue, etc., where religious services are held

Full 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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Synonyms for sanctuary

Synonyms: Noun

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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

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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun One of the Taliban’s more complicated new-old relationships will be with Pakistan, which for two decades engaged in the delicate minuet of formally allying itself with the U.S. while serving as a Taliban sanctuary. Laura King, Los Angeles Times, 2 Sep. 2021 According to park biologists, there are nearly 2,000 black bears who reside in the rugged, mountainous, half-million acres of the Great Smoky Mountains, which sprawl across Western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee and serve as a bear sanctuary. Karen Chávez, USA TODAY, 20 Aug. 2021 Vice President Kamala Harris said in a video message that Mirikitani was a big part of the Glide’s role as a sanctuary. Shwanika Narayan, San Francisco Chronicle, 15 Aug. 2021 For decades, Pakistan has served as a sanctuary for the Afghan Taliban, who have often crossed the countries’ rugged, 1,660-mile border with ease. New York Times, 13 Aug. 2021 Neutering Al Qaeda and eliminating Afghanistan as an Al Qaeda sanctuary were critical U.S. security objectives—attempting to turn Afghanistan into a modern Jeffersonian Democracy was not. Dave Deptula, Forbes, 23 June 2021 Maggie, an African elephant that lived at the Alaska Zoo for 24 years, has died at a wildlife sanctuary in California. Samantha Davenport, Anchorage Daily News, 5 Aug. 2021 Raven, Isa and Arthur arrived at the Northern Lights sanctuary last October after their mother was killed in a collision with a truck near Bella Coola, a coastal village in the Great Bear Rainforest. New York Times, 23 July 2021 Last year, with the help of volunteers, Wolniewicz produced 89 gallons of syrup, which was sold at the sanctuary., 19 Mar. 2021

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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Learn More About sanctuary

Time Traveler for sanctuary

Time Traveler

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

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Dictionary Entries Near sanctuary



sanctuary ring

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Last Updated

15 Sep 2021

Cite this Entry

“Sanctuary.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Sep. 2021.

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More Definitions for sanctuary


sanc·​tu·​ary | \ ˈsaŋk-chə-ˌwer-ē How to pronounce sanctuary (audio) \
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

More from Merriam-Webster on sanctuary

Nglish: Translation of sanctuary for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of sanctuary for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about sanctuary


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