Antioch is one of the five major patriarchal dioceses of the ancient world, which also included Jerusalem, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. Each of the sees would have an archbishop that would be called a patriarch. Only Rome would be the first among the patriarchs, since Saint Peter and his successors governed from this city. Saint Peter and the popes have been the heads of the universal church from the time of Christ, when Jesus entrusted Peter with the Keys of the Church.
The largest city of the Eastern section of the Roman Empire, Antioch was the home to many Jewish converts. Some were intellectual men who began to teach the Gospel among the gentiles, which led to a vast number of conversions. Saint Barnabas was sent to Antioch to shepherd the Church in Antioch. It was in this city that the followers of Christ were first called Christian.
Jerusalem was important because it is where Christianity began. The sacred shrines centering on Jesus’ life and death were in this city. It is there that the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and the missionary spirit of the Church was born. The connection with the places in Scripture, the physical attachment to specific sites in Christ’s life, ensured the uniqueness of this patriarchal see. Saint Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, in the fourth century went to Jerusalem to find the place of crucifixion and resurrection. She retrieved many of the holy relics which are enshrined in Rome today. The Crusades of the eleventh through thirteenth centuries were established to guarantee safe passage of pilgrims to the Holy Land.
Alexandria was known for its massive library and collection of ancient texts. It was a center for higher learning and education in the classical world. Constantinople became an important metropolis only when the seat of government of the Roman Empire moved from Rome to this city (named after the Emperor Constantine). Long after the breakup of the Western part of the Roman Empire, Constantinople remained a stronghold and has become known as the Byzantine Empire. After the schism from Rome, it also became the center or the Orthodox Christian religion. In the fourteenth century, Constantinople fell under the domain of Muslims and was renamed Istanbul. Rome, where Saint Peter and Paul lost their lives, remains the foundation of Catholicism. To this day, the Eternal City is central to the popes, who are the successors of Saint Peter.