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

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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 The remaining dolphins were transferred a year ago to a sea sanctuary in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Lorraine Longhi, azcentral, "OdySea in the Desert changes name to Arizona Boardwalk, announces hotel and more attractions," 13 Feb. 2020 Most of the old church’s 2,500 square feet of space is devoted to the sanctuary. oregonlive, "Bend visitors can stay in a vaulted, historic church that’s now a vacation rental," 20 Jan. 2020 On the patio are four aviaries housing pigeons that have recovered and will soon be released at a volunteer’s home an hour outside Las Vegas; pigeons with permanent injuries are taken to a sanctuary in Phoenix. NBC News, "Las Vegas bird rescuer still searching for pigeons wearing cowboy hats," 18 Jan. 2020 Phillips and other animal rights activists alleged that the calf was being abused or neglected at Braglio Farms when it was picked up and taken to the animal sanctuary. Cody Boteler,, "Harassment charge dropped against animal sanctuary owner who hosted calf stolen from Baltimore County farm," 14 Nov. 2019 The stars of the show live with and care for farm animals, including chickens, sheep, pigs and cows, for three weeks before facing an ultimatum: Go vegetarian and send the animal to a sanctuary, or kill — and eat — their newest family member. Megan Cerullo, CBS News, "Reality TV show's challenge: Go vegetarian or eat your pet," 16 Oct. 2019 According to the sanctuary, Nosey was born in Zimbabwe in 1982 before being captured and brought to Florida in 1984. Leada Gore |, al, "Ex-owner’s animal license revoked, Nosey, ‘saddest elephant in the world,’ at home in sanctuary," 15 Oct. 2019 And the Argentine eco-park has successfully sent lions and bears to sanctuaries in the United States. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Argentine orangutan Sandra to head to US great ape sanctuary," 25 Sep. 2019 Many of those rabbits were eventually relocated to a sanctuary near Sequim. Paige Cornwell, The Seattle Times, "Notice a bunny boom? Here are some reasons for the Seattle area’s recent rise in rabbits," 19 July 2019

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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Time Traveler for sanctuary

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for sanctuary

Last Updated

19 Feb 2020

Cite this Entry

“Sanctuary.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 28 Feb. 2020.

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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

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