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sacred place, especially the most sacred part of a sacred place. In ancient times and in the Middle Ages, a sanctuary served as asylumasylum
, extension of hospitality and protection to a fugitive and the place where such protection is offered. The use of temples and churches for this purpose in ancient and medieval times was known as sanctuary.
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, a place of refuge for persons fleeing from violence or from the penalties of the law. To injure a person in sanctuary or to remove him from it forcibly was considered sacrilege. In Egypt the temples of Osiris and Amon offered the right of sanctuary. Under the Greeks all temples enjoyed this privilege, and certain ones, like the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, were known throughout the Mediterranean world as a haven for fugitives. In Rome sanctuary was often sought by fugitive slaves. Christian churches were given the right of sanctuary by Constantine I. Abuses of sanctuary, tending to encourage crime, led to its curtailment and abolition. Modern penal codes no longer recognize the right of sanctuary.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


In a church, the immediate area around the principal altar.
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an area on land or in a body of water within which only individual elements of a natural complex are specially protected, rather than the entire complex as in a pre-serve: vegetation, all or certain species of animals, or other elements.

In the USSR, sanctuaries forbidding hunting, established for the conservation of valuable species of wild animals and birds, are most common; hunting is prohibited there for up to ten years or more. There are also fishery sanctuaries (to protect spawning grounds, adults and juveniles of valuable species); landscape sanctuaries (picturesque river valleys, lakes and the surrounding area, and sites that have aesthetic or cultural value or are used for recreation and tourism); forest, steppe, and bog sanctuaries (set aside for scientific purposes and to solve certain economic problems, as well as to conserve communities of rare plants); geological sanctuaries (unique caves, geological outcrops, deposits of residues of fossil flora and fauna); hydrological sanctuaries (lakes with unusual hydrological regimes); and other natural sanctuaries, as well as those intended to protect historical areas.

Natural sanctuaries are created by decrees of the Council of Ministers of the Union Republics and by the decisions of local councils. The operating conditions are established by the governments of the Union republics, conservation agencies, and executive committees of local councils. Special legal acts concerning sanctuaries have been drawn up by the Union republics. Economic activity incompatible with the main purpose of a sanctuary is usually banned. Hunting, fishing, felling trees, grazing cattle, cutting hay, or quarrying may be banned, depending on the purpose of the sanctuary.


Primechateinye prirodnye landshafty SSSR i ikh okhrana. Moscow, 1967. (Collection of articles, edited by L. K. Shaposhnikov.)
Emer’ianova, V. G. Zakonodatel’ stvo O zapovednikakh, zakaznikakh, pamiatnikakh prirody. Moscow, 1971. Pages 22–26.




a place for the performance of religious rites; it is usually considered the abode of a deity. The oldest sanctuaries were evidently secret recesses in the depths of caves, where numerous depictions of animals and traces of magic rituals have been found dating from the Paleolithic, particularly in southern France, northern Spain, and in the USSR in the Kapova Cave. Similar sanctuaries are still found today among certain backward peoples; for example, the Australian aborigines have secret hiding places for their totemic emblems.

Sanctuaries consisting of special buildings or fenced-in plots of land with various structures are known among almost all ancient peoples. In some areas they developed from men’s houses (Melanesia), and in other places from the tombs of chiefs (Polynesia and Africa) or from special fetish huts (Africa). Priests and cult servants were usually attached to them. Home sanctuaries for family rituals also exist; they consist of separate sections of a dwelling with cult objects and images. In the developed religions of a class society, sanctuaries often consist of impressive architectural structures, such as churches or temples.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. In a church, the immediate area around the principal altar; the chancel.
2. The sacred shrine of a divinity.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. a holy place
2. a consecrated building or shrine
3. Old Testament
a. the Israelite temple at Jerusalem, esp the holy of holies
b. the tabernacle in which the Ark was enshrined during the wanderings of the Israelites
4. the chancel, or that part of a sacred building surrounding the main altar
a. a sacred building where fugitives were formerly entitled to immunity from arrest or execution
b. the immunity so afforded
6. a place, protected by law, where animals, esp birds, can live and breed without interference
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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