ETYM Old Eng. seintuarie, Old Fren. saintuaire, French sanctuaire, from Latin sanctuarium, from sanctus sacred, holy. Related to Saint.
1. A sacred place; a consecrated spot; a holy and inviolable site.
2. The most sacred part of any religious building, esp. that part of a Christian church in which the altar is placed.
3. A sacred and inviolable asylum; a place of refuge and protection; shelter; refuge; protection.
The holiest area of a place of worship; also, a place of refuge from persecution or prosecution, usually in or near a place of worship. The custom of offering sanctuary in specific places goes back to ancient times and was widespread in Europe in the Middle Ages.
The ancient Hebrews established six separate towns of refuge, and the Greek temple of Diana at Ephesus provided sanctuary within a radius of two stadia (about 434 m/475 yd). In Roman temples the sanctuary was the cella (inner room), in which stood the statue of the god worshiped there.
In the Middle Ages criminals or the hunted could take refuge for 40 days, then opt for safe passage out of the country.