Patriarchate (Greek: πατριαρχεῖον, patriarcheîon) is an ecclesiological term in Christianity, designating the office and jurisdiction of an ecclesiastical patriarch. Historically, there were (and still are) several types of patriarchates in Christendom, spanning from ancient patriarchates of the Pentarchy, to titular or honorary patriarchates with no actual institutional jurisdiction.

Ancient patriarchates of the Pentarchy

Five ancient patriarchates of the Pentarchy, headed by patriarchs as the highest-ranking bishops in the Christian Church prior to the Great Schism, were the patriarchates of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.[1] The East-West Schism of 1054 split the Latin-rite see of Rome from the four Byzantine-rite patriarchates of the East, thus forming distinct Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.

The four Eastern Orthodox patriarchates (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem), along with their Latin Catholic counterpart in the West, Rome, are distinguished as "senior" (Greek: πρεσβυγενή, presbygenē, "senior-born") or "ancient" (παλαίφατα, palèphata, "of ancient fame") and are among the apostolic sees, having had one of the Apostles or Evangelists as their first bishop: Andrew, Mark, Peter, James, and Peter again, respectively.

Patriarchates in the Eastern Orthodox Church

Nine of the current autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Churches, including the four ancient churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem mentioned above, are organized as patriarchates. In chronological order of establishment, the other five are: Georgian Patriarchate, Bulgarian Patriarchate, Serbian Patriarchate, Russian Patriarchate and Romanian Patriarchate.

The Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch moved its headquarters to Damascus in the 13th century, during the reign of the Egyptian Mamelukes, conquerors of Syria. Christian community had flourished in Damascus since apostolic times (Acts 9). However, the patriarchate is still called the Patriarchate of Antioch.

A patriarchate has "legal personality" in some legal jurisdictions, that means it is treated as a corporation. For example, the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem filed a lawsuit in New York, decided in 1999, against Christie's Auction House, disputing the ownership of the Archimedes Palimpsest.

Patriarchates in the Catholic Church

There are ten[2] current patriarchates within the Catholic Church: six are patriarchates of Eastern Catholic Churches,[3] followed by Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem), and three junior Latin patriarchates of Lisbon, Venice and the East Indies.

Some of the Eastern Catholic patriarchates are active on the same territories. Damascus is the seat of the Syriac Catholic and the Melkite Catholic Patriarchates of Antioch, while the Maronite Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch has see in Bkerké, Lebanon.[4]

In the Roman Catholic Church, some patriarchal titles are purely honorary, without an actual residential see, and hence termed Titular Patriarchates, either vested in another (residential) patriarchal see or in the Pope's gift.

Other Patriarchates

There are several patriarchates within the Oriental Orthodoxy and also among the branches of the Church of the East. The head of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church is also called a Patriarch.

See also


  1. Meyendorff 1989.
  2. Annuario Pontificio 2012, pp. 3-8. The title of "Patriarch of the West" for the Pope is no longer in use.
  3. In his motu proprio [ Ad Purpuratorum Patrum of 11 February 1965, Pope Paul VI decreed that Eastern Catholic Patriarchs who became cardinals would be ranked as Cardinal Bishops, not Cardinal Priests, as had previously been the case, and that they would yield precedence only to the six Cardinal Bishops who hold the titles of the suburbicarian sees.
  4. Annuario Pontificio 2012, pp. 3-5


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