Space is holy when invested with a sense of the divine, that is, the place points to multiple levels of profound and creative significance beyond that of the space itself. The multi-dimensional meanings of the place may be simply personal, for example, the house a person grew up in may have a personal sense of the holy; where the mystery gave them birth, growth, maturity, confrontation with death, [etc]. Normally a sacred place must be communal that is recognized as holy by a community. The place may have many stories, legends or myths associated with it. It may be the location of repeated efforts at prayer, sacrifice, rituals, worship services, or rites. It may be the location of historically significant event, like the community's founding, defence against destruction, significant change in direction or other meaning investing activities. Desecration of holy spaces is attack of the symbolic meanings of the place. To wantonly destroy a temple, shrine, church, mosque or even a memorial is to attack the community's symbols of unity, of its relations to God, itself and its neighbours, and of its history, its present and its future. When a community's symbols are attacked the realities to which these symbols are pointing are indirectly under siege. The symbols and the realities they point to must be separated to understand desecration. The desecration of a holy space may generate strong reactions because of the profundity of the reality to which the place points, [ie] the central pillars of a belief system, or because of the many dimensions of life to which it points, [ie] a sense of community, continuity with the past, hope in the future, unity with the universe, and repeated experiences of being blessed.
In primitive religious conceptions the gods are not exempt from general limitations of space and time. The gods have a physical environment, on and through which they act. They are thought of as bounded by certain local limits. The early Semites ideas of divine preference came to be associated with the fertility of particular places, the local gods being recognized and appeased by a tribute of first-fruits and by extension of meaning the first born animal and children. Thus the gods came to have their proper homes or haunts where the worshippers laid their gifts on sacred ground or hung them in a sacred tree, or, in the case of sacrificial blood poured over sacred stones. Later the homes became temples which could only be erected in a place where a god had manifested his presence. These places came to be surrounded by restrictions as to access, especially those who were unclean or had shed blood. The right of asylum in the Old Testament was limited to involuntary homicide and in some Arabian sanctuaries all fugitives were admitted to shelter. The idea of holiness became associated with restriction in the use of places and with protection from encroachment. Holy places were many types. Caves served as early Phoenician temples, the original sanctuary of the temple of Apollo at Delos and the dark inner chambers of early Semitic and Greek temples. In Arabia the whole mountain of Horeb was sacred ground. The idea of sanctity is attached to rivers and springs. Trees were often seen as holy among all the Semitic peoples as well as Druids and Germanic tribes. The local sanctuaries of the Hebrews were altar-sanctuaries erected under trees. Cairn were used for sacrifices for the Arabians, Greeks and Romans. These later evolved into the altars of modern churches and temples.