Definition of sanctuary in US English:



  • 1A place of refuge or safety.

    ‘his sons took sanctuary in the church’
    ‘people automatically sought a sanctuary in time of trouble’
    • ‘The tradition dates from at least the Middle Ages, when European churches afforded sanctuary to the persecuted.’
    • ‘She sought sanctuary in the guest room, closing the door behind her and crawling under the covers.’
    • ‘There is a graphic description, for instance, of the killings in Rwanda and of the butchery of 3,000 Tutsis seeking sanctuary in a church.’
    • ‘Hundreds of protesters who took sanctuary in the mosque during the fighting left peacefully following lengthy negotiations with police.’
    • ‘The Waterford technique also provided this patient a place of refuge or sanctuary where she could retreat and find safety.’
    • ‘There are currently six other cases across Canada, with about 12 people involved, of refugees seeking sanctuary in churches.’
    • ‘I figured at least there I'd be able to get out the pool quickly and seek sanctuary in the house if my wonderful boyfriend and best friend tried anything else.’
    • ‘For decades I've sought sanctuary in the Grill Room at the Dorchester when the catastrophes of the art cooks all became too much.’
    • ‘‘They have requested your advice and have expressed a wish to seek sanctuary here,’ Darius told her.’
    • ‘His shunning of the rest for the more difficult shots demonstrated a confidence not normal for such an arena, while he went for pots where mere mortals would have sought safety sanctuary.’
    • ‘I made my way to exit the room, and seek sanctuary up in my room.’
    • ‘Accompanying that soul-spelunking is a profound craving for sanctuary, for a feeling of safety Scorpios rarely get to enjoy.’
    • ‘Rather than return home, the family sought sanctuary in the basement of a St-Laurent church, where they've been living, without going outside, since.’
    • ‘Then she had run back to her classrooms seeking sanctuary.’
    • ‘I slammed the door angrily, dropped my bag, slid my jacket gently off my shoulders and once again took sanctuary on my mattress.’
    • ‘Without foot patrols, drug dealers took sanctuary in these areas and set up shop.’
    • ‘He wrapped his arms around me and I sought sanctuary in his embrace.’
    • ‘I was still scouring the sky for a large, gliding shape when we arrived at the shores of Lake Chungara and the refuge - our sanctuary for the night.’
    • ‘Diana would occasionally come out of her room, and eat something before retreating back to her sanctuary.’
    • ‘As camp professionals, we can provide sanctuary to these children by offering more scholarships!’
    refuge, haven, harbour, port in a storm, oasis, shelter, retreat, bolt-hole, foxhole, hideout, hiding place, hideaway, den, asylum, safe house, fastness
    safety, safe keeping, protection, shelter, security, immunity, asylum
    View synonyms
  • 2usually with modifier A nature reserve.

    ‘a bird sanctuary’
    • ‘The ideal place, most would agree, with the family would be a visit to wildlife sanctuaries, national parks or zoos.’
    • ‘These animals are being threatened as development encroaches on their natural habitat, and the country has not established national park areas or sanctuaries where species are protected.’
    • ‘Strategically located anti-poaching camps that serve as excellent deterrents to poachers and smugglers are indispensable in all our national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.’
    • ‘Raptors even failed to find safe haven in bird sanctuaries.’
    • ‘As an environmentally conscious golfer, you can ask the local Audubon society to set up bird sanctuaries at your course and support the links in your area that implement environmental policies.’
    • ‘The government announced today that the wild animals in the submergence area would be shifted to the proposed national park and sanctuaries.’
    • ‘There are 11 elephant ranges in the country, each consisting of sanctuaries, national parks, protected areas and non-protected areas.’
    • ‘Though the State has numerous tourism products to attract holidayers, the network of sanctuaries, national parks, fresh water lakes, sacred groves and plantations hold immense eco-tourism value.’
    • ‘Unfortunately this was not the case in many of the wildlife sanctuaries and National Parks in the country.’
    • ‘Traditionally conservation has focused on national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserve forests, but this project goes to show that by co-opting private land owners, much can be achieved.’
    • ‘Wildlife sanctuaries and national parks are cornerstones of bio-diversity conservation of the country and will remain so in future, unless danger of the arrogant ‘only for humans’ view.’
    • ‘It carries news and information on wildlife sanctuaries and national parks from across the country, detailing what is happening to the exclusive four per cent of our landmass that we have set aside as protected areas.’
    • ‘Most birding hot spots in the State are in the periphery of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.’
    • ‘Not far from the club is the Nairobi National Park, a sanctuary for wildlife.’
    • ‘His experiment was so successful that the neighborhood has been certified as a wildlife sanctuary by the Atlanta Audubon Society.’
    • ‘The traditional place to see Asian elephants in the wild is India, where about 80 national parks and 440 sanctuaries provide a host of opportunities for wildlife viewing.’
    • ‘The Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary is a haven for crocodiles.’
    • ‘Usually, bird lovers have to wander in remote national parks or sanctuaries to spend time watching birds.’
    • ‘The widespread worry about the fast dwindling wildlife of the country has been alleviated to some extent by the establishment of wildlife sanctuaries and National parks.’
    • ‘Regions once preserved as national parks, sanctuaries, and havens for wildlife have no laws, regulations, or societal values to protect them.’
    reserve, park, wildlife reserve, nature reserve, reservation, preserve, home, shelter
    View synonyms
  • 3A holy place; a temple or church.

    • ‘It is clear that this statue was not the sanctuary's main cult image.’
    • ‘It was replaced by the older form, shrine Shinto, the worship of kami in shrines or sanctuaries, tended by priests.’
    • ‘The whole convent got together for prayer and worship in the sanctuary, ate all their meals together, and participated in community service.’
    • ‘For centuries, Italians had been building churches, both immense and ornate sanctuaries, and tiny rural stone chapels that bore the name of the mother of Jesus.’
    • ‘Situated north of the Luxor temple Karnak sanctuaries were dedicated to the Gods Amon, Montu and Mut.’
    • ‘But to his relief, he saw temple guardians standing outside the massive doors of the sanctuary.’
    • ‘A number of smaller shrines and sanctuaries are known from the region, such as those at la roquepertuse and saint-beauzély.’
    • ‘Some of the most satisfying projects were chapels and sanctuaries in hospitals.’
    • ‘However, the temple with its three-tiered pagoda-type roof, and the sanctuaries and pond around it are pure Nepali.’
    • ‘He boasts of weeding old sanctuaries, and uncovering the ground-plans of old temples so that he could rebuild them as they were supposed to be.’
    • ‘Although they attempt to regulate everything from sacrifice to cult administration, these laws are particularly interesting for their legislation regarding temples and sanctuaries.’
    • ‘In the sanctuaries, besides the temples, there was a theatre and a stadium, because the Greeks used to pay the same attention to the soul, the spirit and the body.’
    • ‘It is our view that the plaque came down from the Archaic sanctuary that occupied the whole of Temple Hill.’
    • ‘He starts with the Bible, which includes the use of gold as adornment, the golden calf, and the detailed description of use of gold in sanctuary and tabernacle.’
    • ‘In Jerusalem the sanctuary of the temple was called the Holy Place and was between the court and the Holy of Holies.’
    • ‘At the time of the shooting, he said, a Protestant sister congregation that lacks its own sanctuary was worshipping at the Dominican church, as it has for 30 years.’
    • ‘The converts among the merchants and nomadic rulers built temples, pagodas and cave sanctuaries carved into the canyon cliffs and mountains along the Yellow River.’
    • ‘Bath and Gosbecks were presumably tribal sanctuaries, and drew worshippers from far afield.’
    • ‘The sense of place as a point of access to and focus for the sacred informs Pausanias's description of the Greek world, with its enumeration of cities and sanctuaries, their sacred shrines and associated rituals.’
    • ‘Clearly the sanctuary on Temple Hill was, like the Acropolis of Athens, a prominent and important location for the display of state documents.’
    holy place, temple, shrine, tabernacle, altar, sanctum, inner sanctum, holy of holies, sacrarium, bema, naos, adytum
    View synonyms
    1. 3.1 The inmost recess or holiest part of a temple or church.
      • ‘A photograph of the balustrade and the underside of the eaves of the main sanctuary at the inner shrine extends to the edge of all four sides of the left page with no frame.’
      • ‘He equipped the main sanctuary of the shrine dedicated to the sun goddess with solar panels.’
      • ‘Then we confront a full view of the main sanctuary shot from the southwest corner of the inner compound.’
      • ‘It was to this precinct that the survivors of the attack retreated, barricading themselves into the inner sanctuary of the temple, which was burned to the ground with them in it.’
      • ‘The memorial ball, however, was descended directly from the main sanctuary at Ise Shrine.’
    2. 3.2 The part of the chancel of a church containing the high altar.
      • ‘As the priest circled the altar with his thurible, filling the sanctuary with great clouds of incense, the men bobbed up and down on their prayer mats as if in the middle of Friday prayers in a great mosque.’
      • ‘The service takes place in the sanctuary, which contains an altar table and an oblation table.’
      • ‘The four knights tried to drag him outside, to avoid aggravating their sacrilege by defiling the sanctuary.’
      • ‘Many sermons die in the sanctuary because preachers try to say too many things and give too much extraneous information.’
      • ‘On entering the Church, he noticed pieces of stained glass strewn over the sanctuary and on the altar table.’


Middle English (in sanctuary (sense 3)): from Old French sanctuaire, from Latin sanctuarium, from sanctus ‘holy’. Early use in reference to a church or other sacred place where a fugitive was immune, by the law of the medieval Church, from arrest, gave rise to sanctuary (sense 1,.