sanc·tu·ary | \ˈsaŋ(k)-chə-ˌwer-ē \
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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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


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

Carter, who took up woodworking years ago, constructed the sanctuary’s large wooden cross. Harry Bruinius, The Christian Science Monitor, "In Plains, Ga., an evangelical politician like no other," 11 July 2018 The new preserve joins the sanctuary itself, the Parris N. Glendening Nature Preserve, Patuxent Wetlands Park and Wootons Landing Wetlands Park. Janene Holzberg,, "Jug Bay set to unveil trails, Nature Discovery Place at new Waysons Corner preserve," 4 July 2018 A few days after the church meeting, Angel King, the custodian’s 17-year-old granddaughter, who also helps with the church cleaning, was Windexing the glass doors to the sanctuary. New York Times, "An ICE Raid Leaves an Iowa Town Divided Along Faith Lines," 3 July 2018 The sanctuary includes the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena. Ann Zaniewski, Detroit Free Press, "8 undiscovered shipwrecks of the Great Lakes," 22 June 2018 That proposal, which still is awaiting approval, would expand the sanctuary to 206 square miles, or 17 banks, from 56 square miles, or 3 banks. Alex Stuckey, Houston Chronicle, "Deep sea fishing now prohibited at hundreds of miles of coral reef in the Gulf," 21 June 2018 Maybe the feminine counterpart to the bachelor pad, then, is the singleton sanctuary. Ashley Fetters, Curbed, "Living alone and liking it," 20 June 2018 The couple, while obviously concerned for their son’s condition, seemed reluctant to discuss the location of the fatal assault (inside the church sanctuary) or who was involved. Chris Harris,, "4 Things You'll Learn About a Killer Church Cult from Monday's Episode of PMI: Cults," 17 June 2018 In 1989, this same room was the worship space for the Christian congregation as the main Foothills sanctuary was under construction. Laura Gómez, azcentral, "Muslim community finds place to celebrate Ramadan at Glendale Christian church," 15 June 2018

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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Statistics for sanctuary

Last Updated

1 Oct 2018

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Time Traveler for sanctuary

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

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More Definitions for sanctuary


sanc·tu·ary | \ˈsaŋk-chə-ˌwer-ē \
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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Comments on sanctuary

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