Vocabulary —Sanctuary

What is the Sanctuary?

A photo of the Sanctuary looking down the center aisle toward the altar below the cross
Our Sanc­tu­ary.

To explain the part of the church called the “Sanc­tu­ary” we also need to name some of the oth­er parts of the church.


The Narthex (as we usu­al­ly refer to the vestibule or the foy­er at Mt. Olive) is the first area encoun­tered upon enter­ing the church through the main doors. We still call this area the Narthex as it rep­re­sents the point of entry into the church. (In his­to­ry this area would have sep­a­rat­ed those who are rec­on­ciled to the church from those who are not.) A bap­tismal, or pool of water used to bap­tize infants, is kept near the entrance on pur­pose, as bap­tism is the “door to the church.”


The nave is the area of the church where parish­ioners, or mem­bers of the church, sit or stand. In Catholic and Protes­tant church­es, this area is com­prised of pews. Nave, cen­tral and prin­ci­pal part of a Chris­t­ian church, extend­ing from the entrance (the narthex) to the transepts (trans­verse aisle cross­ing the nave in front of the sanc­tu­ary in a cru­ci­form church) or, in the absence of transepts, to the chan­cel (area around the altar).

Photo of the inside of the church showing the piano, the MOM screen, and the altar and the cross.
Sanc­tu­ary show­ing the altar, the MOMM screen, the cross, with can­dles reflect­ed in the top of the piano.


In most church­es, the sanc­tu­ary is in front of the nave, and kept sep­a­rate by rail­ing if pos­si­ble. This area is home to the altar, pul­pit and a chair for the priest or pas­tor. The pul­pit is gen­er­al­ly raised and used dur­ing the ser­mon, or instruc­tion­al time of the ser­vice. The pul­pit is a raised stand for preach­ers in a Chris­t­ian church. The ori­gin of the word is the Latin pul­pi­tum (plat­form or stag­ing). The tra­di­tion­al pul­pit is raised well above the sur­round­ing floor for audi­bil­i­ty and vis­i­bil­i­ty, accessed by steps, with sides com­ing to about waist height.

The altar is the place in the Sanc­tu­ary where the pas­tor pre­pares com­mu­nion.

The nar­row def­i­n­i­tion of the Sanc­tu­ary refers only to the front part of the room, but in com­mon usage we more often refer to the entire room where we usu­al­ly gath­er for wor­ship as the Sanc­tu­ary.


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