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

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms for sanctuary

Synonyms: Noun

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Animals from the sanctuary were evacuated earlier this week, according to the release. Paul Vercammen, CNN, "The Bobcat Fire is now one of the largest in Los Angeles County history after scorching more than 100,000 acres," 21 Sep. 2020 Inside a sanctuary that seats thousands, Rush doesn’t stay behind the pulpit long. Dallas News, "‘Don’t Let the Devil Steal Your Joy’: A teacher-turned-evangelist built a Dallas megachurch as a warrior battling Satan. It was the perfect mask to abuse members, they say," 20 Sep. 2020 Smith added that congregants were invited to spend a few moments, individually or in family groups, inside the sanctuary. Susan Dunne,, "Masked shofar, sidewalk prayers and home worship: Jewish congregations adjust High Holy Days to coronavirus mandates," 18 Sep. 2020 For a $54 donation, organizers will enlarge the photos into 2 foot by 3 foot portraits and place them in seats in the sanctuary as clergy conduct Zoom services from the stage. Lois K. Solomon,, "The latest challenge in Jewish history: COVID-19 Rosh Hashanah," 17 Sep. 2020 Choosing to live in sanctuary in hopes of bringing about change is an activist’s choice. Elaine Ayala,, "Ayala: Living in a self-imposed sanctuary in hopes of bringing about change," 29 Aug. 2020 The grant will be used to install a new exit door in the sanctuary to ease leaving during an emergency evacuation. cleveland, "Learn to spot a fake photo and see gas giants in the solar system: Valley Views," 11 Aug. 2020 Local authorities are working with representatives with Tiger Haven, a big cat sanctuary in Kingston, Tennessee, to locate a tiger that was spotted by a Knox County Sheriff's Deputy in the Forks of the River Industrial Park late Wednesday night. Brittany Crocker, USA TODAY, "Tennessee authorities are looking for a loose tiger after reported sightings in Knoxville," 11 Sep. 2020 Representatives from Tiger Haven, a no-kill tiger sanctuary in Kingston, Tennessee, are helping with the search. David Williams, CNN, "The search is on for a tiger spotted in a Tennessee industrial park," 10 Sep. 2020

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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about sanctuary

Time Traveler for sanctuary

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Statistics for sanctuary

Last Updated

26 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Sanctuary.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 27 Sep. 2020.

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for sanctuary


How to pronounce sanctuary (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of sanctuary

: a place where someone or something is protected or given shelter
: the protection that is provided by a safe place
US : the room inside a church, synagogue, etc., where religious services are held


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

Keep scrolling for more

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).


Test Your Vocabulary

Challenging Vocabulary Quiz Returns!

  • stylized drawing of woman pole vaulting across gap to get trophy
  • Which is a synonym of fuliginous?
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Bee Cubed

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!