sanctuary, sacred place, especially the most sacred part of a sacred place. In ancient times and in the Middle Ages, a sanctuary served as asylum, 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, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.