The crowd was thrilled. The clapping of 10,000 hands caused Quasimodo’s only eye to sparkle with joy. “Sanctuary! Sanctuary! ” the mob repeated. Esmeralda opened her eyes and looked at Quasimodo. For a moment, she was horror stricken at the sight. But she realized that she was safe. Even gypsies knew that churches were places of sanctuary. Escaped prisoners could avoid their punishments as long as they stayed inside. Quasimodo quickly closed the door and carried Esmeralda to the bell tower. There, he held her up to the sky. The people in the crowd below again greeted him with applause. And again he shouted, in that voice he rarely used and could never hear, “Sanctuary! Sanctuary! Sanctuary! ”

Dose it mean: every churches has a safe room and as long as guilty persons are inside that room are safe?

Or it just mean that churches are sacred places?

  • 2
    It means that churches provided sanctuary (gave protection; protected) persons who managed to get inside, even if those persons were criminals. Feb 8 '19 at 18:22
  • 3
    The meaning is explained in the sentence immediately after the one you emboldened: "Escaped prisoners could avoid their punishments as long as they stayed inside."
    – Juhasz
    Feb 8 '19 at 18:23
  • 2
    Check the dictionary definitions more carefully. You seem to be confusing sanctuary and sanctity. Feb 8 '19 at 18:26

In the medieval period churches and cathedrals were in Christian tradition sacred places where a person accused of a crime could claim the right of sanctuary. This meant that those in charge of prosecuting the law could not enter the church in order to arrest the accused (although this did not always happen) the person claiming sanctuary then had a certain amount of time to stay in the church to decide what to do next. This would vary depending on the precise tradition of the country you were in.

In England for example (it's where I am from so it's what I am familiar with from history lessons) criminals theoretically had the right to stay in the church for 40 days before choosing one of two options to hand themselves in for trial, or become exiles and leave the country forever, should they return not only would they be criminals but also excommunicated and prevented from entering heaven when they died.

Victor Hugo is refering to the equivalent law in France.

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