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Sacred describes something that is dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity;[1] is considered worthy of spiritual respect or devotion; or inspires awe or reverence among believers. The property is often ascribed to objects (a "sacred artifact" that is venerated and blessed), or places ("sacred ground").

French sociologist Émile Durkheim considered the dichotomy between the sacred and the profane to be the central characteristic of religion: "religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden."[2]: 47  In Durkheim's theory, the sacred represents the interests of the group, especially unity, which are embodied in sacred group symbols, or using team work to help get out of trouble. The profane, on the other hand, involve mundane individual concerns.


The word sacred descends from the Latin sacer, referring to that which is 'consecrated, dedicated' or 'purified' to the gods or anything in their power, as well as to sacerdotes.[3] Latin sacer is itself from Proto-Indo-European *seh₂k- "sacred, ceremony, ritual".[4]


Although the terms sacred and holy are similar in meaning, and they are sometimes used interchangeably, they carry subtle differences.[5] Holiness is generally used in relation to persons and relationships, whereas sacredness is used in relation to objects, places, or happenings.[6] For example, a saint may be considered as holy but not necessarily sacred. Nonetheless, some things can be both holy and sacred, such as the Holy Bible.[5]

Although sacred and holy denote something or someone set apart to the worship of God and therefore, worthy of respect and sometimes veneration, holy (the stronger word) implies an inherent or essential character.[7] Holiness originates in God and is communicated to things, places, times, and persons engaged in His Service. Thus, Thomas Aquinas defines holiness as that virtue by which a man's mind applies itself and all its acts to God; he ranks it among the infused moral virtues, and identifies it with the virtue of religion. However, whereas religion is the virtue whereby one offers God due service in the things which pertain to the Divine service, holiness is the virtue by which one makes all one's acts subservient to God. Thus, holiness or sanctity is the outcome of sanctification, that Divine act by which God freely justifies a person and by which He has claimed them for His own.[8]

Etymology of 'holy'[edit]

The English word holy dates back to the Proto-Germanic word hailagaz from around 500 BCE, an adjective derived from hailaz ('whole'), which was used to mean 'uninjured, sound, healthy, entire, complete'.[9] In non-specialist contexts, the term holy refers to someone or something that is associated with a divine power, such as water used for baptism.[citation needed]


The concept of things being made or associated with the sacred is widespread among religions, making people, places, and objects revered, set apart for special use or purpose, or transferred to the sacred sphere. Words for this include hallow, sanctify, and consecrate, which can be contrasted with desecration and deconsecration. These terms are used in various ways by different groups.

Sanctification and consecration come from the Latin Sanctus (to set apart for special use or purpose, make holy or sacred)[10][11] and consecrat (dedicated, devoted, and sacred).[12]

The verb form 'to hallow' is archaic in English, and does not appear other than in the quoted text in the Lord's Prayer in the New Testament.[13][14][15] The noun form hallow, as used in Hallowtide, is a synonym of the word saint.[16][17][18]

In the various branches of Christianity the details differ. Sanctification in Christianity usually refers to a person becoming holy,[19] while consecration in Christianity may include setting apart a person, building, or object, for God. Among some Christian denominations there is a complementary service of "deconsecration", to remove something consecrated of its sacred character in preparation for either demolition or sale for secular use.

In rabbinic Judaism sanctification means sanctifying God's name by works of mercy and martyrdom, while desecration of God's name means committing sin.[20] This is based on the Jewish concept of God, whose holiness is pure goodness and is transmissible by sanctifying people and things.[21]

In Islam, sanctification is termed as tazkiah, other similarly used words to the term are Islah-i qalb (reform of the heart), Ihsan (beautification), taharat (purification), Ikhlas (purity), qalb-is-salim (pure/safe/undamaged heart). Tasawuf (Sufism), basically an ideology rather than a term, is mostly misinterpreted as the idea of sanctification in Islam and it is used to pray about saints, especially among Sufis, in whom it is common to say "that God sanctifies his secret" ("qaddasa Llahou Sirruhu"), and that the Saint is alive or dead.[22]

Images of the Buddha and bodhisattvas are ceremonially consecrated in a broad range of Buddhist rituals that vary depending on the Buddhist traditions. Buddhābhiseka is a Pali and Sanskrit term referring to these consecration rituals.[23]

Mormonism is replete with consecration doctrine, primarily Christ's title of "The Anointed One" signifying his official, authorized and unique role as the savior of mankind from sin and death, and secondarily each individual's opportunity and ultimate responsibility to accept Jesus' will for their life and consecrate themselves to living thereby wholeheartedly. Book of Mormon examples include "sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God" (Heleman 3:35) and "come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption, ... and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved" (Omni 1:26).

In most South Indian Hindu temples around the world, Kumbhabhishekam, or the temple's consecration ceremony, is done once every 12 years. It is usually done to purify the temple after a renovation or simply done to renew the purity of the temple. Hindus celebrate this event on the consecration date as the witnessing gives a good soul a thousand "punya", or good karma.[24]

Panch Kalyanaka Pratishtha Mahotsava is a traditional Jain ceremony that consecrates one or more Jain Tirthankara icons with celebration of Panch Kalyanaka (five auspicious events). The ceremony is generally held when a new Jain temple is erected or new idols are installed in temples.[25] The consecration must be supervised by a religious authority, an Acharya or a Bhattaraka or a scholar authorized by them.

In academia[edit]


Hierology (Greek: ιερος, hieros, 'sacred or 'holy', + -logy) is the study of sacred literature or lore.[26][27] The concept and the term were developed in 2002 by Russian art-historian and byzantinist Alexei Lidov.[28]

History of religions[edit]

Analysing the dialectic of the sacred, Mircea Eliade outlines that religion should not be interpreted only as "belief in deities", but as "experience of the sacred."[29] The sacred is presented in relation to the profane;[30] the relation between the sacred and the profane is not of opposition, but of complementarity, as the profane is viewed as a hierophany.[31]


French sociologist Émile Durkheim considered the dichotomy between the sacred and the profane to be the central characteristic of religion: "religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden."[2]: 47  In Durkheim's theory, the sacred represented the interests of the group, especially unity, which were embodied in sacred group symbols, or totems. The profane, on the other hand, involved mundane individual concerns. Durkheim explicitly stated that the dichotomy sacred/profane was not equivalent to good/evil. The sacred could be good or evil, and the profane could be either as well.[32]

In religion[edit]

Ancient religions[edit]

In ancient Roman religion, the concept of sacrosanctity (Latin: sacrosanctitas) was extremely important in attempting to protect the tribunes of the plebs from personal harm. The tribunician power was later arrogated to the emperors in large part to provide them with the role's sacred protections. In addition to sanctifying temples and similar sanctuaries, the Romans also undertook the ritual of the sulcus primigenius when founding a new city—particularly formal colonies—in order to make the entire circuit of the town's wall ritually sacred as a further means of protection. In order to allow the removal of corpses to graveyards and similarly profane work, the city gates were left exempted from the rite.

Indic religions[edit]

Indian-origin religion, namely Hinduism and its offshoots Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, have concept of revering and conserving ecology and environment by treating various objects as sacred, such as rivers, trees, forests or groves, mountains, etc.


Sacred rivers and their reverence is a phenomenon found in several religions, especially religions which have eco-friendly belief as core of their religion. For example, the Indian-origin religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikism) revere and preserve the groves, trees, mountains and rivers as sacred. Among the most sacred rivers in Hinduism are the Ganges,[33] Yamuna,[34][35] Sarasvati[36] rivers on which the rigvedic rivers flourished. The vedas and Gita, the most sacred of hindu texts were written on the banks of Sarasvati river which were codified during the Kuru kingdom in present-day Haryana. Among other secondary sacred rivers of Hinduism are Narmada[37] and many more.

Among the sacred mountains, the most sacred among those are Mount Kailash[38] (in TIbet), Nanda Devi, Char Dham mountains and Amarnath mountain, Gangotri mountain. Yamunotri mountain, Sarasvotri mountain (origin of Sarasvati River), Dhosi Hill, etc.


In Theravada Buddhism one finds the designation of ariya-puggala ('noble person'). Buddha described the Four stages of awakening of a person depending on their level of purity. This purity is measured by which of the ten samyojana ('fetters') and klesha have been purified and integrated from the mindstream. These persons are called (in order of increasing sanctity) Sotāpanna, Sakadagami, Anāgāmi, and Arahant.

Abrahamic religions[edit]


The range of denominations provide a wide variety of interpretations on sacredness. The Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, and Methodist Churches, believe in Holy Sacraments that the clergy perform, such as Holy Communion and Holy Baptism, as well as strong belief in the Holy Catholic Church, Holy Scripture, Holy Trinity, and the Holy Covenant. They also believe that angels and saints are called to holiness. In Methodist Wesleyan theology holiness has acquired the secondary meaning of the reshaping of a person through entire sanctification. The Holiness movement began within the United States Methodist church among those who thought the church had lost the zeal and emphasis on personal holiness of Wesley's day. Around the middle of the 20th century, the Conservative Holiness Movement, a conservative offshoot of the Holiness movement, was born. The Higher Life movement appeared in the British Isles during the mid-19th century.

Commonly recognized outward expressions or "standards" of holiness among more fundamental adherents frequently include applications relative to dress, hair, and appearance: e.g., short hair on men, uncut hair on women, and prohibitions against shorts, pants on women, make-up and jewelry. Other common injunctions are against places of worldly amusement, mixed swimming, smoking, minced oaths, as well as the eschewing of television and radio.


Among the names of God in the Quran is Al-Quddus (القدوس): found in Q59:23[39] and 62:1, the closest English translation is 'holy' or 'sacred'. (It shares the same triliteral Semitic root, Q-D-Š, as the Hebrew kodesh.) Another use of the same root is found in the Arabic name for Jerusalem: al-Quds, 'the Holy'.

The word ħarām (حرام), often translated as 'prohibited' or 'forbidden', is better understood as 'sacred' or 'sanctuary' in the context of places considered sacred in Islam. For example:


The Hebrew word kodesh (קֹדֶשׁ) is used in the Torah to mean 'set-apartness' and 'distinct' like is found in the Jewish marriage ceremony where it is stated by the husband to his prospective wife, "You are made holy to me according to the law of Moses and Israel." (את מקדשת לי כדת משה וישראל). In Hebrew, holiness has a connotation of oneness and transparency like in the Jewish marriage example, where husband and wife are seen as one in keeping with Genesis 2:24. Kodesh is also commonly translated as 'holiness' and 'sacredness'.[40] The Torah describes the Aaronite priests and the Levites as being selected by God to perform the Temple services; they, as well, are called "holy."

Holiness is not a single state, but contains a broad spectrum. The Mishnah lists concentric circles of holiness surrounding the Temple in Jerusalem: Holy of Holies, Temple Sanctuary, Temple Vestibule, Court of Priests, Court of Israelites, Court of Women, Temple Mount, the walled city of Jerusalem, all the walled cities of Israel, and the borders of the Land of Israel.[41] Distinctions are made as to who and what are permitted in each area.

Likewise, the Jewish holidays and the Shabbat are considered to be holy in time; the Torah calls them "holy [days of] gathering." Work is not allowed on those days, and rabbinic tradition lists 39 categories of activity that are specifically prohibited.[42]

Beyond the intrinsically holy, objects can become sacred through consecration. Any personal possession may be dedicated to the Temple of God, after which its misappropriation is considered among the gravest of sins. The various sacrifices are holy. Those that may be eaten have very specific rules concerning who may eat which of their parts, and time limits on when the consumption must be completed. Most sacrifices contain a part to be consumed by the priests—a portion of the holy to be consumed by God's holy devotees.

The encounter with the holy is seen as eminently desirable, and at the same time fearful and awesome. For the strongest penalties are applied to one who transgresses in this area—one could in theory receive either the death penalty or the heavenly punishment of kareth, spiritual excision, for mis-stepping in his close approach to God's domain.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "sacred." Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 16 July 2020.
  2. ^ a b Durkheim, Émile. 1915. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. London: George Allen & Unwin. ISBN 978-0-8341-2182-9.
  3. ^ Stormonth, James, and Philip Henry Phelp, eds. 1895. "Sacred." In A Dictionary of the English Language. Blackwood & sons p. 883.
  4. ^ de Vaan, Michiel (2008). Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages. Brill. p. 532. ISBN 978-90-04-16797-1.
  5. ^ a b "Difference Between Sacred and Holy Archived 12 October 2016 at the Wayback Machine." Difference Between. 26 September 2013.
  6. ^ McCann, Catherine. 2008. New Paths Toward the Sacred Thus. Paulist Press. ISBN 978-0809145515.
  7. ^ "Sacred", Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 5th ed., p. 875
  8. ^ Pope, Hugh. 1910. "Holiness Archived 22 November 2016 at the Wayback Machine." The Catholic Encyclopedia 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 20 November 2016. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  9. ^ Ringe, Donald; Taylor, Ann (2014). The Development of Old English – A Linguistic History of English, vol. II. United States of America: Oxford University Press. pp. 335, 129.
  10. ^ "sanctify". Archived from the original on 10 June 2023. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  11. ^ "Sanctify | Etymology, origin and meaning of sanctify by etymonline". Archived from the original on 20 January 2023. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  12. ^ "Definition of CONSECRATE". Merriam-Webster. Archived from the original on 27 October 2021. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  13. ^ "Dictionary.com". Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. 15 January 2007. Archived from the original on 12 February 2007. Retrieved 23 January 2007.
  14. ^ Webster's Collegiate Dictionary entry for hallowed
  15. ^ Matthew 6:9 and Luke 11:2
  16. ^ Wilson, Douglas; Fischer, Ty (2005). Omnibus II: Church Fathers Through the Reformation. Veritas Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-1932168440. The word "hallow" means "saint," in that "hallow" is just an alternative form of the word "holy" ("hallowed be Thy name").
  17. ^ Diehl, Daniel; Donnelly, Mark (2001). Medieval Celebrations: How to Plan Holidays, Weddings, and Feasts with Recipes, Customs, Costumes, Decorations, Songs, Dances, and Games. Stackpole Books. p. 13. ISBN 978-0811728669. The word hallow was simply another word for saint.
  18. ^ Leslie, Frank (1895). Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly. Allhallowtide. Frank Leslie Publishing House. p. 539. Just as the term "Eastertide" expresses for us the whole of the church services and ancient customs attached to the festival of Easter, from Palm Sunday until Easter Monday, so does All-hallowtide include for us all the various customs, obsolete and still observed, of Halloween, All Saints' and All Souls' Days. From the 31st of October until the morning of the 3d of November, this period of three days, known as All-hallowtide, is full of traditional and legendary lore.
  19. ^ Justo L. González, Essential Theological Terms, Westminster John Knox Press, US, 2005, p. 155
  20. ^ "Jewish Encyclopedia: Sanctification of the Name". Archived from the original on 26 July 2021. Retrieved 26 July 2021.
  21. ^ "Jewish Encyclopedia: Holiness". Archived from the original on 26 July 2021. Retrieved 26 July 2021.
  22. ^ Juan Eduardo Campo, Encyclopedia of Islam, Infobase Publishing, US, 2009, p. 598
  23. ^ Robert E. Buswell Jr.; Donald S. Lopez Jr. (2013). The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-1400848058.
  24. ^ "Account Suspended". modernhinduculture.com. Archived from the original on 28 July 2020. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  25. ^ Jaini, Padmanabh S. (1998) [1979], The Jaina Path of Purification, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-1578-5
  26. ^ "hierology Archived 22 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine." Dictionary.com.
  27. ^ "hierology." Oxford Dictionary Online.
  28. ^ A. Lidov. "Hierotopy. The creation of sacred spaces as a form of creativity and subject of cultural history" in Hierotopy. Creation of Sacred Spaces in Byzantium and Medieval Russia, ed. A.Lidov, Moscow: Progress-Tradition, 2006, pp. 32–58
  29. ^ Altizer, Thomas J. J. 1968. Mircea Eliade and the Dialectic of the Sacred. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. ISBN 978-083-7171-96-8.
  30. ^ Eliade, Mircea. 1987. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, translated by W. R. Trask. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. ISBN 978-0156-79201-1.
  31. ^ Iţu, Mircia. 2006. Mircea Eliade. Bucharest: Editura Fundaţiei România de Mâine. ISBN 973-725-715-4. p. 35.
  32. ^ Pals, Daniel. 1996. Seven Theories of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-508725-9. p. 99
  33. ^ Alter, Stephen (2001), Sacred Waters: A Pilgrimage Up the Ganges River to the Source of Hindu Culture, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade & Reference Publishers, ISBN 978-0-15-100585-7, archived from the original on 24 March 2023, retrieved 30 July 2013
  34. ^ Jain, Sharad K.; Pushpendra K. Agarwal; Vijay P. Singh (2007). Hydrology and water resources of India – Volume 57 of Water science and technology library. Springer. pp. 344–354. ISBN 978-1-4020-5179-1.
  35. ^ Hoiberg, Dale (2000). Students' Britannica India, Volumes 1–5. Popular Prakashan. pp. 290–291. ISBN 0-85229-760-2.
  36. ^ "Sarasvati | Hindu deity". Encyclopedia Britannica. Archived from the original on 5 April 2023. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  37. ^ "Narmadāparikramā – Circumambulation of the Narmadā River". Brill. Archived from the original on 17 September 2013. Retrieved 3 March 2014.
  38. ^ Snelling, John. (1990). The Sacred Mountain: The Complete Guide to Tibet's Mount Kailas. 1st edition 1983. Revised and enlarged edition, including: Kailas-Manasarovar Travellers' Guide. Forwards by H.H. the Dalai Lama of Tibet and Christmas Humphreys. East-West Publications, London and The Hague. ISBN 0-85692-173-4, pp. 39, 33, 35, 225, 280, 353, 362–363, 377–378
  39. ^ 59:23
  40. ^ Blue Letter Bible. "H6944 – qodesh – Strong's Hebrew Lexicon (HNV)". Archived from the original on 15 August 2016. Retrieved 28 June 2016.
  41. ^ Mishnah Kelim, chapter 1
  42. ^ Mishna, Shabbat 7:2


  • Durkheim, Emile (1915) The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. London: George Allen & Unwin (originally published 1915, English translation 1915).
  • Eliade, Mircea (1957) The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. Translated by Willard R. Trask. (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World).
  • Thomas Jay Oord and Michael Lodahl (2006) Relational Holiness: Responding to the Call of Love. Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill. ISBN 978-0-8341-2182-9
  • Pals, Daniel (1996) Seven Theories of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press. US ISBN 0-19-508725-9 (pbk).
  • Sharpe, Eric J. (1986) Comparative Religion: A History, 2nd ed., (London: Duckworth, 1986/La Salle: Open Court). US ISBN 0-8126-9041-9.

External links[edit]