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Sanctuary or Snow Mountain Portal
Sanctuary or Snow Mountain PortalSanctuary - Middle English, from Old French sainctuarie, from Late Latin s?nctu?rium, from Latin s?nctus, sacred, sanctify. 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 fugitive slaves often sought sanctuary. 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.
In Europe, Christian churches were usually built on a holy spot, generally where a miracle or martyrdom had taken place or where a holy person was buried. Examples are St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and St. Albans Cathedral in England, which commemorate the martyrdom of Saint Peter (the first Pope, according to Catholics) and Saint Alban (the first Christian martyr in Britain), respectively. The place, and therefore the church built there, was considered to have been sanctified (made holy) by what happened there. In modern times, the Roman Catholic Church has continued this practice by placing in the altar of each church, when it is consecrated for use, a box (the sepulcrum) containing relics of a saint.
The relics box is removed when the church is taken out of use as a church. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the antimension on the altar serves a similar function. It is a cloth icon of Christ's body taken down from the cross, and typically has the relics of a saint sewn into it. In addition, it is signed by the parish's bishop, and represents his authorization and blessing for the Eucharist to be celebrated on that altar.
George Grie, August 2006
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