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Seeking Sanctuary

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Homer: Sanctuary! Sanctuary!
Lovejoy: Oh, why did I teach him that word?
The Simpsons, "Missionary Impossible"

Scenario: you're being pursued by something — something evil, dark, sinister, bloodthirsty, and demonic. Maybe it's The Heartless, or the Enemy Without or your Superpowered Evil Side that wants to return to you. Maybe it's your universe's parallel of Satan, or at least something working for him. If you're lucky, the villagers just decided to break out the Torches and Pitchforks.

Where do you run? The sanctuary of the nearest Saintly Church or Holy Ground.

Why? Because it's symbolic of a safe haven from demonic forces, who can't set foot on holy ground. The tradition originated from the idea that spilling blood in God's house was a great evil, so it's still a good place to hide from a suitably God-fearing human enemy. In some times and places there were laws against making arrests if a suspect is in a church and the Geneva Convention forbids attacking a place of worship.

The probability of success depends on where the story is on the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism. On one end, not only will the church be safe but the local Good Shepherd will provide the hero with cookies and milk. At the other end, there will be a Sinister Minister that is working with whatever was chasing the hero.

When a character is seeking sanctuary in a different sort of way, wanting to be alone to talk to God, that's Sanctuary of Solitude. See also Place of Protection.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Happens several times in Berserk with innocents running to the nearest church to escape whatever demons happen to be roaming around. Unsurprisingly, this fails more often than not. The Holy See isn't going to do much to protect from demons when their gods are actually those demons' bosses. The only real time it worked was in Enoch village during the troll invasion, where at first the trolls managed to easily get into the church, but were chased off by the little witch Schierke's magical barrier.
  • Black Lagoon: Greenback Jane tries this when she runs afoul of some of Roanapur's criminal elements. Unfortunately, the only church found in the Wretched Hive is the Corrupt Church, and things rapidly go downhill for her.
  • This ironically happens in Claymore, where the main protagonists take refuge in a holy city that actively shunned them only seven years ago.
  • In Den-noh Coil, the Satchii (anti-virus programs; the city is an augmented reality) can't follow people into Shinto shrines. You can also trick them by drawing the basic shape of a shrine gate on the ground with chalk, then standing on it. This sanctuary doesn't come from any higher morality, but just bureaucratic infighting Satchii are run by the Ministry of Posts, but schools are run by the Ministry of Education while shrines and parks fall under the purview of the Ministry of Culturenote . They're just keyed to recognize torii as shrine indicators, to the point where a solitary torii from a demolished shrine or a sketch of a torii can apparently suffice to trick them, and since Daikoku is an old town, there are a lot of old shrines nestled among the back streets.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: Bakura goes into a church while running from his Superpowered Evil Side. Unfortunately, it's already inside him.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Bar Sinister miniseries, Bar Sinister—a group of genetically engineered, super powered human/animal hybrids—are fleeing from the NYPD and take refuge inside a burnt-out cathedral and claim sanctuary. This results in a drawn-out siege situation as various law enforcement agencies argue about jurisdiction, and considerable media attention as it is debated if their claim to sanctuary should be honoured. Lieutenant Westin, the police officer in charge, even mentions Victor Hugo and compares the situation to The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
  • Subverted in The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers "A Mexican Oddysey" storyline. Fat Freddy, on the run from the police, spies a Catholic church and runs for it, saying to himself that it has been a tradition for centuries for the Catholic church to provide sanctuary for the hapless fugitive. He runs in the church, asks the priest for sanctuary...and the priest immediately runs outside and yells for the cops.
  • Zigzagged one in Hellblazer. John Constantine traps a group of demons inside an old church by having his accomplices pour holy water around the outside after the demons have entered to get at him. Then comes in the Aztec Death God that he had made a deal with earlier, who can walk past the holy water barrier that the demons cannot cross.
  • Played with in the Graphic Novel Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia. A young woman appears at the door of the Themiscyran embassy (WW's home), and uses the eponymous ritual to demand sanctuary and protection from the thing that chased her all the way from Gotham... Batman.

    Film — Animation 
  • Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame:
    • In the opening, zealot Judge Frollo pursues a gypsy woman and kills her on the steps on the great cathedral, where she had been pleading for sanctuary. The archdeacon orders him to raise the woman's infant, the deformed Quasimodo, in penance.
    • Later on, Esmeralda seeks sanctuary to escape the guards - Frollo orders them to drag her out anyway, but is again confronted by the Archdeacon. He decides to simply bide his time, knowing that she will have to leave eventually - "Gypsies don't do well inside stone walls".
    • In the climax, Quasimodo saves Esmeralda from execution, brings her into the cathedral and invokes sanctuary once again. Except this time, Frollo has stopped caring, having his soldiers break down the door and even throwing the Archdeacon aside.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The eponymous (and likely demon-possessed) vehicle in the horror film The Car is unable to follow some of its would-be victims into a cemetery.
  • The Enforcer (1951): When "Big Babe" Lazick fails a job from Murder, Inc., the cops find him hiding in a church, and he freaks out when they drag him outside, being convinced it's the only place he's safe from assassins.
  • One of the Rules of Highlander: no Immortal can fight on Holy Ground. Any holy ground of any religion seems to work, but churches and graveyards are the most common. Whether it's an honor system or a binding law seems to vary by show/movie. In one TV Movie, an attempt to fight in a Buddhist Temple causes omnious thunder and the swords to break, while in Highlander: Endgame, a group of Immortals tired of the fight are slaughtered on presumably (it's the subject of much debate) Holy ground.
  • John Wick: The Continental Hotels function as a safe haven for members of the criminal underworld needing to lay low for one reason or another. The cardinal rule that makes this work is that absolutely no business (as in, contract killings) can take place on the premises. If anyone has a beef with another occupants, they must either behave themselves or they take it outside. Anyone who violates these rules is immediately excommunicado and then marked for death by the High Table (if the owner doesn't have them killed first).
  • In The Killer That Stalked New York, a 1950 film Very Loosely Based on the 1947 New York City smallpox outbreak, Patient Zero Sheila Bennet hides in a convent in order to avoid capture during the manhunt for her (the manhunt is mostly because the authorities want to contain the outbreak and she keeps spreading the disease, but she's also wanted for diamond smuggling).
  • Moolaade: "Moolaade" is what one particular African village calls its custom of sanctuary, in which a homeowner may invoke moolaade and give shelter to anyone who asks. Colle does this to give shelter to four girls of the town who are trying to avoid being subject to female circumcision.
  • None Shall Escape: In 1919, after the rape case against him is dismissed for lack of evidence and he is discharged from the hospital after losing his left eye, Wilhelm goes to the Lidzbark church in order to seek sanctuary. There he finds the priest and the rabbi, and borrows some money from them in order to be able to cross the newly-established border to Germany.
  • The cultists in the Silent Hill movie did this to escape the monsters and darkness that Alessa and the demon inflicted upon the town once nighttime rolled around.
  • In Silver Lode, Ballard heads for the church after being wounded in the shoulder and depleting his ammunition, where Reverend Field opens the door and lets him in without a word. The townspeople, led by McCarty, do not respect the sanctuary and enter the church against Reverend Field's objections.
  • In The Sixth Sense, Malcolm follows Cole to a church. He explains the concept of sanctuary to the boy as a way of breaking the ice.
  • In Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow (1999), the town residents are gathered in a church for a meeting when the Headless Horseman shows up outside. The Horseman's body and weapons dissolve upon contact with consecrated ground, and it would seem that his plan to kill the heroine's father is thwarted. So the Horseman ties a rope to a stake and launches it through a window impaling Baltus Van Tassel. The Horseman then pulls on the rope, yanking Baltus out of the window, then he pulls on him until the father gets stuck in the fence. (Unfortunately for the father, his head is now sticking beyond the border of the consecrated ground...)
  • The film Sometimes They Come Back has the hero and his family hide from demonically resurrected hooligans in a church. When one of the punks tries to enter the church to attack them, his limbs begin to catch fire as they pass the threshold.
  • Spider-Man 3: After realizing things have gotten out of control, Peter goes to a church tower where he tries to free himself from the black symbiote. He later learns the ringing bells generate the loud noises that are the symbiote's weakness, freeing him. This is more or less how it happened in the comics.
  • Tower of London (1962): Sir Justin plots with his girlfriend, Lady Margaret Stanley, to rescue the princes. He manages to get the young Duke of York and his mother Elizabeth Woodville free. Elizabeth and young Richard seek sanctuary in Westminster Abbey. Using the letter of the law and threats of violence, Richard forces the Archbishop to give up the Duke of York, although he is forced to leave to Elizabeth in the Archbishop's care.
  • Les Visiteurs: Godefroy, a temporally-displaced medieval knight, charges into a modern-day church on a horse bellowing "Sanctuary!" It takes a full squad of riot cops to get him out of the presbitery.

  • The Black Arrow: When the outlaws of the Black Arrow disrupt the wedding between Dick's lover Joanna and Lord Shoreby in Shoreby Abbey Church, Dick and his companion Lawless are turned over to Sir Daniel -Dick's treacherous and manipulative ex-guardian-, but Dick claims sanctuary in the abbey church so he is not turned over to someone who tried to kill him.
  • Brother Cadfael: In The Sanctuary Sparrow, a young man accused of murder flees an angry mob and takes sanctuary in Cadfael's monastery. This means Cadfael only has a limited amount of time to solve the murder, before the law — or the mob — can get at the accused.
  • Ciaphas Cain: Invoked in novel Duty Calls. Cain, THE HERO OF THE IMPERIUM, persuades the Sisters of Battle to stop blindly advancing by pointing that they would leave a gap in the battle line once they were slaughtered. The tyranids would pour in, charge straight to the temple, and slaughter all the refugees praying there for the Emperor's protection — and if they wanted to report before the Golden Throne having permitted that, he wouldn't stop them. Not only do they retreat, one later thanks him for reminding them of their duty.
  • The Crowner John Mysteries: Being set in the Middle Ages in the cathedral town of Exeter, the series contains multiple examples of people attempting to use the actual law and seek sanctuary from their crimes in the church. The first novel even takes it title from the tradition: The Sanctuary Seeker.
  • Demon: A Memoir: The narrator is being stalked by the eponymous demon and tries to arrange one of their "appointments" in a church, hoping the demon will be unable to follow him inside. It's downplayed as the demon has no problem following him inside the church, but complains that the saints' prayers give it a headache.
  • In one of the Deverry novels, the wife and daughters of the slain lord of the Wolf clan seek sanctuary from their enemies in the Boar clan at a temple. The Boars respect the sanctuary of the temple, but leave a squad of men behind just outside of the temple's lands, ensuring that the women cannot leave without being captured.
  • In The Dresden Files St. Mary of the Angels in Chicago is a recurring place. The holy ground and strong doors keep out several non-human evil monsters that try to enter. Many times Harry either leads people there or tells them to go there and speak with Father Forthill using him as a reference to get aid and rest.
  • Subverted in the first part of Gods and Warriors. After Hylas survives the first attack of the Crow warriors who are after him and the other Outsiders, he asks for a sanctuary from the village of his taskmaster Neleos. Though the Bronze Age village hasn't a church or a temple, it has "spirit gates" to protect the villagers from threats and Outsiders. The villagers are happy to let the Crows do what they want as long as they're left in peace and refuse to protect Hylas. Hylas then tries to invoke the law of sanctuary, but Neleos replies that it doesn't apply to Outsiders and tells him to sod off.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The original book and most adaptations.
  • Deconstructed in the novel version of I Am Legend, which provided scientific reasons for classic vampire weaknesses and behaviors.
  • Andre Norton:
    • In The Zero Stone, Jern flees the Human Sacrifice and his mentor's murderers to a location protected by a godling. It's a classic sanctuary: anyone, regardless of crime, may find shelter there.
    • In The Prince Commands, Michael finds the enemy in the cathedral. They murder the bishop, and he refuses to honor their claim of sanctuary on that ground.
  • Shannara: One of the signs that things are going to crap is that Feeders are running amok in a church.
  • The Zombie Survival Guide explicitly warns the reader not to go to a church when zombies attack. The reason? Everyone else who goes there will likely pray loudly for protection, and the sound of their prayers will draw the zombies straight to them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • American Gothic (1995) plays around with this trope in "Inhumanitas". Caleb believes he will be safe from Buck's evil influence by taking shelter in the church, but the sheriff not only has no issues whatsoever stepping into the sanctuary and relentlessly pursuing his attempts to corrupt the boy, but he is even able to exert Demonic Possession on him, proving how little the forces of holiness can touch him...until Merlyn lays a smackdown on him. The fact that the parish priest had sold his soul and was attempting to break free of the deal may have had something to do with why Buck was first untouchable, then vulnerable.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In "Who Are You?" the reverse occurs, when a group of vampires decide to prove that they have enough courage to invade a church on a Sunday morning. This involves the symbolism of the church as a sanctuary—the vampires used to believe in such an idea, but their attitude toward it changes to mockery once they are inside the church.
    • In "Shadow", Glory sends her cobra-demon to seek out the Key in all the holy places in Sunnydale, naturally assuming the monks will have placed it there. As it turns out, they have a more practical form of protection in mind, by turning the Key into Buffy's little sister.
  • In one episode of Cadfael, a minstrel named Liliwen flees an entire pack of wedding guests who think he's murdered the family patriarch. They all burst into the abbey in the middle of the monks singing vespers and he just manages to grab the altar cloth before the mob seizes him. The Abbot, after Shaming the Mob, grants the boy his forty days of safety inside abbey walls while Brother Cadfael starts his usual investigations. Liliwen complicates things for himself when he leaves, cloaked, to escort his sweetheart home after dark, and a murder happens to take place during that time.
  • An episode of Chicago P.D. has the cops tracking a trio of young black men they suspect of killing a young woman. They take refuge in a church and the priest refuses to allow the cops to arrest them. While annoyed by that, Voight soon finds himself having to defend the church when the girl's irate parents lead an angry mob there. The priest does however let Voight into the church to interview the suspects, so the cops at least get some leads. Then someone sets the church on fire, forcing everyone out. For the record, they were innocent.
  • Daredevil (2015): In season 3, Karen seeks refuge at Matt's church after Wilson Fisk puts a hit out on her as revenge for her murder of James Wesley. Dex is sent to conduct the hit at the church, and although Matt intervenes to fight him off, Father Lantom and several innocent bystanders are killed.
  • Doctor Who:
    • When Rose alters her own timeline in "Father's Day" and the Reaper is trying to destroy everyone. They hide in a church, which provides protection, but not because of its holy nature. It protects because it is the oldest building there, and the Reapers unravel objects based on their age.
    • In "The Lazarus Experiment", Richard Lazarus hid from the Blitz in Southwark Cathedral as a child. When he's losing control of his mutation, he retreats there a second time. The Doctor lampshades it.
  • Highlander:
    • The one undisputed rule among Immortals is that they cannot harm one another on Holy Ground. It doesn't matter what religion it is, any church, temple, cemetery or other site recognized as a holy place counts. Thus, if an Immortal is being chased by an opponent, they can duck onto such a place and seek some safety for a while.
    • In one episode, an Immortal has her husband murdered by an obsessive former love. With the police suspecting her, she goes to Immortal priest Darius at his Paris church to hide. While a detective suspects she's there, he's bound by the law to not be able to just go in and drag her out.
    • An Immortal Nazi is hunting a priest who (as a young boy) caused him to be killed in World War II and spend decades chained under a river. Duncan's girlfriend Anne is with the priest when the Immortal shows up, assuring him he can't do anything while they're in the church. But the priest is so terrified that he ends up running out of the church grounds, giving the Immortal the excuse to attack him. It also gives Duncan the excuse to take the guy's head.
    • Why is this rule so sacred? Because according to legend the one time two Immortals fought on Holy Ground was in a temple in Southern Italy. In Pompeii. In August of 79 AD.
  • Interview with the Vampire (2022): In "In Throes of Increasing Wonder...", Louis de Pointe du Lac flees to St. Augustine Church in the hope that it can protect him from Lestat de Lioncourt, whom he believes is the Devil. However, vampires aren't affected by religious sites or objects, so Lestat (a Hollywood Atheist who resents Christianity) enters the church, sets the pews on fire, murders Father Matthias while Louis was confessing his sins, and then kills a second priest before he approaches Louis.
  • In the Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode "Firefall", Kolchak takes refuge from a pyromaniac poltergeist in a church (due to its being on holy ground). He later sees the ghost looking into the church through a window.
  • Lucifer. Played for Laughs when Lucifer offers a priest a Place of Protection. Cut to several nuns descending a staircase in what appears to be a candle-lit crypt... until they throw off their veils to reveal themselves as strippers in Lucifer's nightclub. Fortunately the priest is entirely unruffled by Lucifer's attempts to expose him to temptation. Lucifer, incidentally, can walk into a church no problem (he is an angel, after all).
  • On an episode of M*A*S*H, an AWOL soldier takes refuge in the mess tent while Father Mulcahy is using it for a church service. Mulcahy states that he will not allow the soldier to be arrested on holy ground, and many calls are made to find out if a mess tent qualifies as a place of sanctuary. The answer comes back no, and the MPs are sent in to get the soldier, who wards them off at gunpoint. Incensed, Father Mulcahy upbraids him for defiling what he considered a house of the Lord just moments earlier by pointing a deadly weapon at someone. After Mulcahy disarms him despite being at point-blank range, the soldier feels bad and surrenders. The Army later compromised by arranging Dr. Freedman to give him psychiatric help instead of just throwing him in the stockade.
  • The New Avengers: In The Teaser to "The Eagle's Nest", a Pursued Protagonist flees from his attackers into a monastery. He disturbs the monks at their devotions, demanding sanctuary. This ends badly for him, as the monks are actually Nazis in disguise.
  • Defied in The Pillars of the Earth, when the corrupt bishop denies the Good Shepherd sanctuary as the newly-built church hasn't yet been consecrated, and thus doesn't count as "holy ground". He's later Hoist by His Own Petard when the town turns on him and he attempts to seek sanctuary himself in the same church.
  • Supernatural
    • Downplayed in "Salvation", where Meg makes it clear that only minor demons are forbidden from holy ground.
    • Invoked in "I Know What You Did Last Summer". Anna may not have been safe in the church, but at least it had a bleeding Virgin Mary early warning system.
      Sam: If you were religious, scared, and had demons on your tail, where would you go to feel safe?
  • The X-Files: Scully and a bunch of kids hide from someone inside a church; the chaser is revealed to be Satan after it turns out that he can't cross the threshold.
  • Played very straight — to surprisingly good effect — in an episode of the early 1990s Zorro series. While they're driving into town together, Don Diego's mentor is shot by government officials convinced he's a traitor. The only way for Diego to get him treatment is to duck into the nearby pueblo church and claim sanctuary... then try to figure out how he's going to either A) transform to Zorro without giving the secret away or B) get out of this as his meek alter ego.

  • Iron Maiden's "Sanctuary": He's wants "sanctuary from the law" after killing a woman, but since he also wants "love me tonight", it's not in a church.
  • In the Steeleye Span song "John of Ditchford", the title character claims sanctuary at Wooten Church after killing Henry Felip. The church coroner tells him he must accept exile, and so he takes a heavy cross (indicating he's still under sanctuary) and heads for the coast. He gets a mile before being killed, presumably by Henry's son, who's already killed the other members of the gang.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Arthurian Legend: One version has Mordred's sons murdered by their rival at a church altar after they take sanctuary. This is the worst thing he could possibly have done by the standards of the time.
  • The Bible:
    • Fugitives would flee to the temple in Jerusalem ("grasp the horns of the altar"), where they would be granted temporary asylum from pursuers. However, the important word here is "temporary", as a judgement of the king nullifies the protection of the temple. And as Joab found out to his detriment, Solomon is not shy about killing people in the Tabernacle.
    • One of Solomon's brothers runs to grab "the horns of the altar" after a coup. The reason for this was the fact that the horns of the altar (bronze horns) were held by the person making a sacrifice so that they could be forgiven. Since they were sacred, the belief was pretty accurate, as long as Solomon respected the altar of God. Fortunately for the brother, he did.
  • In Classical Mythology:
    • A recurrent theme. Characters pursued by somebody trying to rape or kill them could rush to the nearest temple and prostrate themselves as a supplicant before the image of the god. Violence of any kind (with the sole exception of ritual animal sacrifice) was strictly forbidden on temple grounds, so any gods-fearing pursuer would have to stop off their attack. In myths where an attacker kills somebody at the altar anyway, they usually suffer the vengeance of the god whose sanctuary they violated.
    • In one version of Jason And The Argonauts, Jason's mother tried to escape being raped by fleeing into the temple of Hera. She prayed three times before she was caught and raped in the temple, as a result, Hera helped Jason three times in his quest.
    • One origin story of Medusa had her raped by Poseidon inside a temple of Athena... at which point Athena punished her priestess for violating her vow of chastity by turning her into a monster.
    • During the fall of Troy, the fate of many of the Greeks is decided by them respecting or violating sanctuary. In particular, Ajax the Lesser's rape of Cassandra on the altar of the Temple of Athena and the Greeks' failure to execute him for it as he had the gall of claiming sanctuary himself causes many of them to be caught in a terrible storm sent specifically after Ajax, with the ones escaping any trouble from the storm being Odysseus, who had advocated to stone him to death to kill him without entering the temple and thus violating sanctuary and had a relatively safe voyage until he accidentally angered Poseidon, and Nestor and Diomedes, who left before Athena made her demand for Ajax' head (Diomedes still had to flee his kingdom due angering Aphrodite during the war, but Nestor, that held a pious conduct and took no part in the looting, had a swift and safe return).
    • During the sacking of Troy, Neottolemus, son of Achilles, killed Priam on Apollo's altar. In one version of the myth he was later slain by Apollo's priests at Delphi on the god's direct orders relayed by the Pythia.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the tabletop system Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye) every Temple consecrated to the Twelve Gods (which may more or less just be a bush in the case of the God of Hunting) provides protection against demons.

  • Euripides' Andromache has the title character seeking refuge at the altar of Thetis when the jealous Hermione seeks to kill her husband's Sex Slave. Hermione and her father get her to leave sanctuary by finding where she hid her son by Neoptolemus and threatening to kill him instead.
  • In The Comedy of Errors, the foreign Antipholus and Dromio hide from their twins' angry friends and family inside an abbey, whose abbess guards them and prevents anyone from entering in to take them away.
  • Subverted in Richard III when Richard, Duke of York, taken to sanctuary by his mother, Queen Elizabeth, is hauled out of sanctuary on the arguments of the Duke of Buckingham and subsequently murdered in the Tower.

    Video Games 
  • Churches in The Flame in the Flood always make great shelters from the rain, and often have rags and alcohol (for making bandages and other items).
  • Zigzagged in Silent Hill. The Balkan church in the first game is a straight example of this trope. It is free of monsters as is the journey to it. Other churches are not safe places - in fact the last battle of Silent Hill 3 takes place in one.

  • Selinda's Haven in At Arm's Length is a shelter on Earth for all (reasonably decent) beings, including magical or alien beings seeking asylum from evil regimes or Blood Knights that are seeking them, and mortal victims of magic, usually of the Baleful Polymorph variety.
  • In Girl Genius a traveler getting on a Corbettite train that gives the monks an honest explanation of who they are, where they're going, and why, is entitled to sanctuary and safe passage until the train gets to their stop. That said, their confessional booths have an eject button.
  • The Phoenix Requiem: The people think that they are safe from the shades in the church, but it is heavily implied that they are wrong. On the other hand, they can't enter Hyde Asylum.

    Western Animation 
  • Blood of Zeus: After Hera leads off several gods off Olympus in their mutual disgust of Zeus' hypocrisy, they take refuge for a time under Hades' protection. He does not offer support to either Zeus or Hera, but tells Zeus he will allow any god who wishes sanctuary may have it in his domain.
  • Played for laughs in The Simpsons, in which Homer is being chased by members of PBS who are out for blood. He eventually makes his way to the church and runs in screaming "Sanctuary! Sanctuary!" An irritated Reverend Lovejoy questions why he bothered to even teach him the word.
  • Teen Titans: Raven and a badly injured Robin hide from Slade, now Trigon's messenger, in a Church. Slade follows them in, Robin is finally knocked out, and Raven runs for it.

    Real Life 
  • Historically, most western governments have respected churches' rights to offer sanctuary. This was not true in Apartheid South Africa, however. During the student protest movement, a rally at a university turned ugly, and the riot police chased the students into a church. The students figured the police would respect the church, but they just barricaded the door and tossed in a tear gas grenade, forcing those inside to jump out the windows.
  • The historical rule (at least in England) was a downplayed version. A person could claim sanctuary in a church under specific circumstances, and could stay there for up to forty days, after which they either had to give themselves up to the authorities or be sent into exile. In the English tradition, sanctuary wasn't a "Get Out of Jail Free" Card, but a refuge against mob justice.
  • In Ancient Hebrew law cities of refuge were scattered across Israel where people guilty of accidental manslaughter could go and be safe from the Avenger of Blood (presumably meaning the representative of the aggrieved family). Someone could move to a city of refuge where they would live until the High Priest died, after which he could leave and not be killed. However if the person was found to have purposely murdered the person they would be handed over to the avenger for punishment.
  • In ancient Sparta, Spartans slaughtered helots who had taken refuge in a shrine of Poseidon. Then an earthquake struck. The Spartans concluded they were being punished.
  • For 600 years, there was a network of 5 very powerful Buddhist nunneries called Amagozan in Kamakura, Japan that served as womens' shelters. In an era where divorce was easily obtained by men but nearly impossible for women to obtain, a wife could seek physical and legal sanctuary from an abusive spouse in Amagozan and could obtain a fully legal divorce by remaining there as a lay sister for three years. The nunneries only lost their power to issue divorce decrees in the late 19th century when Meiji reforms created a modern family court system.
  • Defied by the Vikings. As pagans, they didn't feel they had any reason not to attack churches, and they were a recurring target. One of the reasons the Europeans were so scared of them is because Vikings did not respect holy sanctuaries.
  • It wasn't uncommon for this to be defied in World War II, often by the Nazis. Forget hauling criminals out of churches, they would trap people inside and burn the building down!
  • In the 1980s, over 500 congregations in the United States declared themselves "sanctuaries" and sheltered refugees from civil wars in Central America who couldn't obtain legal asylum. While they weren't legally protected, they offered some de facto protection as authorities wanted to avoid the bad press of raiding a church.
  • Averted during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. A notable case is the Ntarama Massacre, which took place in a Catholic church. When photographer David Guttenfelder came to take pictures of the church a few months after the massacre, he was horrified to discover "people piled on top of one another, four or five deep, on top of the pews, between the pews, everywhere," most of whom had been struck down by people with whom they had lived and worked. It's now a memorial to the genocide.