1) Holy place, usually the worship space of a church. Sanctuary may mean the area around the altar, especially in liturgical churches. It may be separated from the rest of the church by an altar rail. It may refer to the entire chancel area, including the choir and/or the space reserved for the clergy. It may also refer to the entire interior of the church where worship takes place. 2) Historically, a sanctuary would be a place of safe refuge for criminals or fugitives. This is also known as the right of sanctuary. It is based on the understanding that holy places such as churches are not subject to the powers of this world. In modern times, churches have provided sanctuary for refugees and illegal aliens. The right of sanctuary in cities of refuge was available in OT times for one who killed a person without intent (Nm 35:9-15; Ex 21:13).
Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.