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An archpriest is a priest with supervisory duties over a number of parishes. The term is most often used in Eastern Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholic Churches, although it may be used in the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic Church instead of dean or vicar forane.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, during the persecution of Roman Catholics in England, an archpriest appointed from Romemarker had authority over all of the church's secular clergy in the country. In the present-day Church of England, an archpriest closely resembles a Rural or Area Dean.


In ancient times, much as the archdeacon was the head of the diaconate of a diocese, the archpriest was first the chief of the presbyterium of the diocese. His duties included deputising for the Bishop in spiritual matters when necessary.

By the Middle Ages, the title had evolved and was that of the priest of the principal parish among several local parishes. This priest had general charge of worship in this archpresbyteriate, and the parishioners of the smaller parishes had to attend Sunday Mass and hold baptisms at the principal parish while the subordinate parishes instead held daily mass and homilies.

By the time of the Council of Trent the office of archpriest was replaced by the office of vicar forane, also known in English as "dean". The first recorded use of this meaning of the title comes from St Charles Borromeo's reforms in his own diocese. Unlike vicars general and vicars episcopal, vicars forane are not prelates, which means they do not possess ordinary power. Their role is entirely supervisory, and they perform visitations for the bishop and report to the bishop or vicar general any problems in their vicariate.

In late Elizabethan England, an Archpriest was appointed from Romemarker to oversee the Roman Catholic church's mission in England, with authority over all secular clergy in the country.

The title of archpriest has survived in Romemarker, in Maltamarker and elsewhere, where it is now held by the rectors of the major basilicas. However, the title is entirely honorary, reflecting the fact that these churches held archpriestly status in the past.

Roman Catholicism

There are currently four Archpriests of the major basilicas in Rome. These are;

Byzantine Christianity

In Eastern Orthodoxy and Greek-Catholicism, the rank of archpriest remains as a title of honor or seniority. It is synonymous with that of protopresbyter in Greek usage, but in Slavic usage they are distinct offices, with protopresbyter the higher of the two. In either case, it is the highest rank married clergy can ordinarily expect to attain. Archpriests are styled "Very Reverend" and are distinguished by the award of a pectoral cross. In the Slavic tradition this is specifically the gold cross, and they may be further distinguished with the award of the purple kamilavka, the epigonation, the jewelled pectoral cross, and the mitre. The highest award for a priest is a second pectoral cross. They might possess some limited supervisory responsibility over other clergy as the local dean or diocesan chancellor, but only because as senior clergy they are more likely to be selected for such offices.


In the Church of England there is at least one Archpriest, the Archpriest of Haccombemarker. This is a hamlet in Devonmarker, near Newton Abbotmarker where the parish is combined with that of Stoke-in-Teignhead with Combe-in-Teignhead. The modern office most closely resembling that of archpriest is the role of Rural Dean (rural dioceses) or Area Dean (urban dioceses). Like the archpriest of old, these officers have supervisory duties, but not ordinary jurisdiction, and are entitled to carry out visitations of subordinate parishes when so commissioned. With this in mind, although the Archpriest of Haccombe holds a unique role in the Church of England, it must be considered analogous with certain Incumbencies which bear the title "Dean" regardless of whether or not their Incumbent is the actual Rural or Area Dean. One example of this historical oddity is the office of Dean of Bocking in East Angliamarker.

See also


  • Cross, F. L. , ed. (1957) Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. London: Oxford University Press; pp. 79-80
  • further reading: Amanieu, A. (1935) "Archiprêtre", in: Dictionnaire de Droit Canonique; coll. 1004-26 (includes good bibliog.)

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