The idea of sanctuary for me is bound not to a church but to library stacks - first the shadowy reference section of my grade school library, around behind the stage where I would go during recess as often as they would let me. Later the library downtown where for my ten books per session (my mother's imposed limit - that still meant we carted home 30 books a visit) I could select from the children's library downstairs or venture up to the main stacks (it always felt like sneaking) to scour the literature section for the rocket-ship-and-atom labels I knew meant Science Fiction. Later still, the new county library building a few blocks from school where I'd go to wait for a ride home, so I didn't have to endure the bus. The insulated hush of shelves and shelves and shelves full of books.
This is on a level entirely apart from what the books might contain. It has more to do with the sound of pages turning, or the feel of the paper. The heft of them, the thunk as you stack them. I'm reminded of the stacking because I brought home two sets of books I used to play with as a child - read, some, yes, and look at the pictures definitely, but I remember them mostly as being infinitely stackable.
In retrospect, though, I must have poked around in them more than I remembered - it seems illuminating to me to realize that they are Ridpath's History of the World and the Grolier Library's Lands and Peoples set. The Ridpath is the 1907 edition, by subscription only, nine volumes plus a later supplemental on "The Great War." It's bound in red leather that still feels like velvet to me - when I read the Hobbit and learned of the Red Book of Westmarch, it was a volume of this set I envisioned.
The Lands and Peoples books were probably more formative, though. First, they had color pictures as well as unusual covers that were pictures as well. I remember being particularly drawn to the covers back when I was small enough the books were too heavy for me to move easily. These are the 1940 edition, which makes for some interesting reading. Not only is the tone quite different in general from any current text, it's odd to read about colonial countries that no longer exist being described as though they would endure forever.
It's funny to look at both these sets and think: these are part of why I studied anthropology.