To most of us, the word, “sanctuary” means that big room in the church in which we worship. Sanctuaries are built intently to be an inspiring place to worship God, and are often breathtakingly beautiful! Beauty inspires awe in us, whether inside or outside a building, and awe opens our hearts to receive God’s love.
But there’s a different definition of the word.
My favorite scene from Disney’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame” is when Quasimodo saves Esmeralda from execution, rushes her to the cathedral and cries, “Sanctuary!” to keep her away from evil Frollo. I remember how that scene struck me as I watched it for the first time on VHS with my kids. I had to hide around the corner in the kitchen so my boys wouldn’t see their mom tearing up - they were pretty young, and I didn’t want to upset them.
Quasimodo’s action is historically accurate - well, maybe not scaling the side of Notre Dame on a rope with a woman on your shoulder - but the declaring sanctuary part.
Even before Christianity, the Greek and Roman temples offered protection to fugitives, a policy that the Catholic church later adopted. By the end of the 4th century, sanctuary was a part of Roman imperial law. If a person committed a crime and then ran to the church to claim sanctuary, no one could come in and harm, arrest, or remove that person for punishment. Fugitives could even escape the death penalty by claiming sanctuary in a church. A limit of 40 days was put on their time in sanctuary, however, and once that time was up, they usually had to go into permanent exile. Many early church leaders believed in “restoring the moral balance between the wrongdoer and God.” If fugitives claiming sanctuary weren’t already Christians, they were persuaded to convert.
The alternative of seeking sanctuary almost surely meant death. With prison conditions and bread and water rations, one was likely to die of disease sooner than later.
I can’t help but see a parallel in our lives today. Because of the present scourge, our homes have become our sanctuaries...refuge, haven, safe place, shelter, asylum. Even if we cannot see our church sanctuaries for a long time, we still have our own personal little sanctuaries. And given the alternative, that should offer a good deal of comfort. Stay there! 😊
Matthew 6:6 -
"When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
I found a clip of the "Sanctuary" scene from Hunchback of Notre Dame to share with you, but it ends kind of abruptly and you don’t get to hear the rest of the song. So I’ve included two links here - one from the film, and another just the song. Also, below, find the lyrics from the song translated from the Latin. When I got the idea to share this piece of music and story, I had not yet read the text.... Yes, exactly.
Short commentary about the beginning of the clip, Quasimodo is chained, desolate, and resisting encouragement from his friends, the gargoyles. One gargoyle says, “Okay, Quasi, we’ll leave you alone…after all, we’re just made of stone.” And another one says, “we just thought you were made of something stronger.”
Yes, WE ARE.
Be well my friends.
by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz
In You, Lord, have I trusted / Let me not be damned for eternity / Save Your people / In our Judge we believe / Free me, Lord / Free me, Lord, from everlasting death / On that terrible day / When the heavens shall be moved / The heavens and earth / When Though shall come to judge the world Oh Saviour, saving victim / Who opens the gate of heaven / Our enemies besiege us / Give us strength, bring us aid / May you always be praised / Glory, glory forever / Holy, holy, in the highest / Death and nature shall be confounded / When creation shall rise again / To answer for judgment / Therefore, when the Judge will take his seat / Nothing shall remain unpunished / To what protector shall I appeal / When scarcely the just man shall be secure? / Righteous Judge of vengeance / Before the day of reckoning / Lord have mercy!
Clip from the film:
The whole song without film: