Illustrated Architecture Dictionary
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1. A sacred place (such as a church, temple, synagogue or mosque).
2. A consecrated area of a church or temple around its tabernacle or altar.
3. In some Protestant churches, the term sanctuary denotes the entire worship area while the term chancel is used to refer to the area around the altar-table.
The words chancel and sanctuary are often synonyms. Protestant churches tend to use "chancel," whereas Catholic churches tend to use "sanctuary."
4. In a cruciform church, the immediate area around the principal altar, which is enclosed by a communion rail, setting it off from the nave
In historic church architecture, the front part of the church from which the service is conducted, as distinct from the nave, where the congregation sits.
The sanctuary is usually an elevated platform, usually three steps up from the nave.
In churches with a lecture-hall floor plan, the term ‘sanctuary’ is often used to mean both chancel and nave because the two are not architecturally distinct.
In historic usage, chancel and sanctuary are synonyms.
- Rev. Ken Collins' Website (online May 2020)
The sanctuary is the area at the front of the church where the altar and cross are located, and the area around it that is usually raised. Also included are the priest’s chair and altar servers’ seats. Usually, but not always, the lectern where the readings are proclaimed is within the sanctuary. The tabernacle that holds the Blessed Sacrament is frequently, but not always, in the sanctuary. The sanctuary is a particularly sacred space within a Catholic church.
Where the congregation sits is called the nave, and is not part of the sanctuary.
The Catholic use of the word "sanctuary" is quite different from the Protestant use of the same word. Protestants tend to refer to the entire interior of the church building as the sanctuary, distinguishing it from the church hall, offices, and other buildings on church grounds.
- Catholic Answer Forums (online Dec. 2019)
Examples from Buffalo architecture:
- Illustration above: St. Francis RC Church/Buffalo Religious Arts Center
- Central Presbyterian Church
- Unitarian Universalist Church
- St. Joseph's Old Cathedral
- St. John the Evangelist RC Church
- St. Luke's Roman Catholic Church/St. Luke's Mission of Mercy
- Prospect Avenue Baptist Church
- Holy Family Church