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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.

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.
Recent Examples on the Web
The condominium residences begin on the 42nd floor, where modern interiors by designer Vicky Charles of Charles & Co. provide a serene sanctuary in the throbbing heart of the city that never sleeps. Demetrius Simms, Robb Report, 12 Apr. 2024 In 2022, when legislation outlawing gender-affirming medical treatments erupted in mostly red-state legislatures across the land, California enacted a law creating a sanctuary for those whose treatments were blocked by the lawmakers. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 11 Apr. 2024 The resort's spa, a sanctuary of relaxation, has been reimagined with 11,000 square feet of amenities. Dobrina Zhekova, Travel + Leisure, 10 Apr. 2024 The portion of Beaver Island designated as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary joins just another 19 such sanctuaries around the world. Detroit Free Press, 8 Apr. 2024 There are floors reserved exclusively for female travelers with dedicated services, including female room service, a women-only check-in counter, and guest relations, offering a sanctuary of sorts for travelers. Tina Charisma, Essence, 26 Mar. 2024 Two other national marine sanctuaries have been proposed in Lakes Erie and Ontario. Caitlin Looby, Journal Sentinel, 21 Mar. 2024 Singletary worked quickly to open his sanctuary for a prayer vigil Tuesday night attended by city leaders, including Mayor Brandon Scott, and several first responders. USA TODAY, 28 Mar. 2024 Others heard his promise to keep Colorado Springs from becoming a sanctuary as selling out. Karin Brulliard, Washington Post, 22 Mar. 2024
Why is Putin accusing Ukraine and the West? Sacramento’s City Council votes unanimously to become a sanctuary city for transgender people. Christian Orozco, Los Angeles Times, 28 Mar. 2024 The resolution, declaring Sacramento a sanctuary city for transgender people, passed unanimously Tuesday, via Theresa Clift. Andrew Sheeler, Sacramento Bee, 28 Mar. 2024 Liberal states like California and Democratic-run cities have passed gun restrictions, auto-emissions standards that are stricter than national standards and sanctuary policies to limit how local law-enforcement officers can work with federal immigration agents. Jack Healy, New York Times, 20 Mar. 2024 New York City is also a sanctuary city, which limits the city's cooperation with the federal immigration authorities. Kiara Alfonseca, ABC News, 19 Mar. 2024 Although the term has no legal meaning, a sanctuary city usually provides safe harbor to migrants regardless of their immigration status, and declines to assist federal immigration officials in tracking them down. Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY, 9 Mar. 2024 Galaz said sanctuary city policies make cities safer by ensuring that migrants are comfortable reporting crimes and acting as witnesses in criminal investigations without fear of deportation. Natalie Kainz, NBC News, 28 Feb. 2024 The 51-acre sanctuary houses zebras, African antelope, a giraffe, and more. Emma Reynolds, Robb Report, 23 Feb. 2024 Doesn't sound half-bad, huh? more on hilton head 02 of 15 Fripp Island Only three and a half miles long and about a half-mile wide, Fripp Island is a sanctuary worth seeing. Kaitlyn Yarborough, Southern Living, 20 Feb. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'sanctuary.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 15 Apr. 2024.

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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