Is there any nuance between a shrine and a temple, or a temple and a sanctuary ?

Each one of those terms referenced to at least one of other ones within their respective definitions, for example, according to the Meriam-Webster dictionary a shrine is defined thus :

a place in which devotion is paid to a saint or deity : SANCTUARY

and the ODE defines a sanctuary as :

A holy place; a temple

Do all of these three words refer to one same place ?


They all have different nuance. They especially cannot be interchanged because of how different religions refer to their places of worship.

A "sanctuary" can be any place where the people or things inside are not allowed to be harmed. For example: a wildlife sanctuary. It would sound very strange to my ear to say "I'm going to the sanctuary to pray"; I don't know any religion which refers to their place of worship as simply "sanctuary".

A "shrine" is typically a specific object or area devoted to honouring a specific person, people, or deity, and may or may not have religious connotations. For example, there is a structure in Melbourne, Australia which is to preserve the memory of soldiers who have fought in Australia's wars, called the Shrine of Remembrance. It is also the standard English translation of a Shinto place of worship.

A "temple" is a type of place of worship. But you wouldn't use the word "temple" interchangeably with "church", "synagogue", "mosque", nor with "place of worship" itself. Something is a "temple" if that's what the people that worship there call it.

  • I thought that in America a temple means a synagogue, is it just specific to this region ? – Norbert May 13 '19 at 10:26
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    In some churches, the "sanctuary" is used to refer to the main part of the church building, as opposed to the "narthex", lobby, or the office. – whiskeychief May 13 '19 at 10:28
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    @Norbert No. Orthodox Jews never call a synagogue a temple. I think Reform or Conservative ones sometimes do (this is not limited to the USA). As far as I know, the English term for a Sikh or Buddhist place of worship is also "temple". " Temple" is a pretty generic term that does mean "place of worship", but you would irritate/confuse/offend an Orthodox Jew, a Muslim or a Christian if you called their place of worship a "temple", because it's the wrong word to use. – Len May 14 '19 at 8:19
  • (Well, "would irritate/confuse/offend" is too strong, but you get the idea) – Len May 14 '19 at 8:32

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