(1) Consecrated place giving protection to those fleeing from justice or persecution. The right of sanctuary was based on the inviolability attaching to things sacred. It was originally confined to the church itself, but in the course of time its limits were extended to the surrounding precincts, and sometimes even to a larger area. Usually there was a large ring or knocker on the church door, the holding of which gave the right of asylum. The practise of sanctuary ceased towards the end of the 18th century, though the Church still claims her right in the code of canon law.

(2) The space in the church reserved for the high altar and the clergy. In Christian antiquity it was confined to the apse, into the wall of which the stone benches for the clergy were let; in the middle stood the bishop‘s chair (cathedra). As time went on, the semi-circular niche could no longer hold the numbers of the higher and lower clergy, and a portion of the middle nave was enclosed with rails and added to the sanctuary. In later times, however, this necessity was met in another way, by introducing between the cross aisle and the apse a compartment or square, the basilica thus receiving the form of a cross.

MLA Citation

  • “sanctuary”. New Catholic Dictionary. CatholicSaints.Info. 19 December 2010. Web. 26 January 2022. <>