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Suburbicarian Dioceses

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A name applied to the dioceses nearest Rome, viz. Albano, Frascati (Tusculum), Palestrina, Sabina, Ostia and Velletri, Porto and S. Rufina, the bishops of which form the order of cardinal bishops. The See of Albano (Albanensis) has its cathedral, on the site of a basilica built by Constantine, on the Appian Way, about ten miles from Rome. The name corresponds to the Latin ager Albanus which commemorated the ancient city of Alba Longa, famous in Roman history. The diocese now comprises twelve parishes, and has a population of 41,000. Frascati, the ancient Tusculum, is in the Alban Hills, twelve miles from Rome. The diocese (Tusculana) contains eight parishes and has a population of 16,000; within its limits is the famous Basilian Abbey of Grottaferrata. The capital of the Diocese of Palestrina (Praenestinensis) is the ancient Praeneste, on the Via Labicana. The diocese, divided into twenty-four parishes, has a population of 45,700. The Diocese of Sabina (Sabinensis) was formed out of three oldest dioceses: S. Maria in Vescovio, Corese, and Mentana. Corese is the ancient Cures, which was, in remote ages, the Sabina capital; hence, obviously, the name Sabina. This, the largest of the suburbicarian dioceses, contains some 55,000 inhabitants, in thirty-five parishes. Ostia and Velletri (Ostiensis et Veliternensis) was formed in the twelfth century by the union of the Diocese of Velletri (the ancient Velitrae of the Volscians) with that of Ostia. The latter place was the seaport of ancient Rome. This diocese has sixteen parishes with 34,000 inhabitants. Porto, opposite Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber, was the Roman port (portus) constructed by the Emperor Claudius. The Basilica of Sts. Rufina and Secundus, about fourteen miles from Rome, on the Via Aureliana, having become the see of a bishop in the fifth century, this see was eventually united with that of Ostia. The diocese (Portuensis et S. Rufinae) has eighteen parishes with a population of about 5000.

The term suburbicarius is taken from Roman public law, the expression regiones or provinciae suburbicariae meaning the districts adjacent to Rome. The term ecclesiae suburbicariae occurs first in Rufinus [Hist. eccl., I (x), 6], where he refers to the sixth canon of Nicaea treating of the extension of the patriarchal power of Rome. Rufinus certainly uses the words in the sense of "all the Churches de facto subject to the episcopus urbicus, that is, of Rome", meaning all the Churches of the West. The so-called Old (prisca) Version of the Nicene canons says that the jurisdiction of Rome extends over "suburbicaria loca et omnem provinciam suam", where suburbicarius is certainly more restricted in meaning than in the passage from Rufinus, and so must have been employed as it was used in Roman public law. In fairly recent times the expression was used synonymously with suburbanus, that is "in the immediate vicinity of Rome", to signify the above-mentioned dioceses.

Naturally these dioceses had a certain importance in the Church of Rome. Some authorities have suggested that the bishops were mere auxiliaries of the pope with jurisdiction, subject, however, to his. Certainly they had some prerogatives. For instance, the Bishop of Ostia, in the fourth century and probably in the third, consecrated the pope; in the sixth century the Bishop of Albano recited the second prayer in the consecration ceremony, and the Bishop of Porto the third. In the eighth century we read (Vita Stephani, III) of the most ancient custom in virtue of which seven of these bishops, called hebdomadarii, celebrated Mass in turn in place of the pope and were called episcopi cardinales, from being permanently attached to the cardo, that is the cathedral church of Rome; but we are not told who they were. In the eleventh century there were seven (six after the union of Porto and Silva Candida). Besides the titles episcopi hebdomadarii (twelfth century) and cardinales Romanae Sedis they were also known as Vicarii and Cooperatores papae and episcopi romani. The last title must have had a wider signification, as it was used of other bishops besides the seven, like the bishops of Tivoli, Gabii (united later with Palestrina), Lavicum (united with Tusculum), Velletri, Nepi, and Segni. In addition to the districts already mentioned these bishops had others. For instance the Bishop of Porto had ordinary delegated jurisdiction in Trastevere, and the Bishop of Silva Candida in the Leonine city and also in the Basilica of St. Peter. Both had residence on the Tiber island, and the Bishop of Albano had an episcopal residence near the Lateran. Probably as early as the eleventh century these bishops had the right of participating in the election of the pope; the Constitution of Nicholas II (1059), which fixed the right of electing the pope as belonging exclusively to the bishops and cardinal clerics of Rome, supposes that the former already enjoyed the right.

As the cardinal-bishops are largely absorbed in the business of the Curia, some of them, in particular the Bishops of Sabina and Velletri, have for centuries had auxiliary bishops. Pius X, in his Constitution "Apostolicae Romanorum" (1910), ordained that there should be suffragan bishops for all the suburbicarian dioceses. The Constitution decrees that:

  1. the cardinal-bishop is always the true bishop of the suburbicarian see;
  2. each cardinal-bishop shall in future have a titular bishop as suffragan,
  3. who shall be nominated by the pope; to take possession of his office the nominee must present to the cardinal the document containing his nomination;
  4. in virtue of the present Constitution it is presumed that the cardinal-bishop has given his suffragan all the faculties necessary for the government of his diocese, such as other resident bishops have, with the following restrictions:
  5. the auxiliary governs the diocese in the name and place of the cardinal;
  6. with the death or transfer of the latter the jurisdiction of the auxiliary does not cease, he continues to rule the diocese as administrator Apostolic;
  7. he must make an annual report to the cardinal on the moral and economic condition of the diocese;
  8. where possible, a part of the episcopal palace shall be set aside for the suffragan and the Curia;
  9. the blessing of the holy oils, the pontifical celebrations on the greater feasts of the year in accordance with the "Caeremoniale" of the bishops, is reserved to the cardinal, who may, however, delegate the auxiliary;
  10. the obligation of celebrating Mass for the people is imposed on the cardinal, who
  11. has the right of having his coat-of-arms on the palace, the cathedral, and other customary places;
  12. the episcopal throne is reserved to the cardinal whose name alone is mentioned in the canon;
  13. the cardinal, even when absent from the diocese, can grant an indulgence of 200 days;
  14. if the cardinal is in the diocese he alone may officiate, or grant permission to officiate, pontifically;
  15. the auxiliary may not grant benefices in the chapter and parishes not reserved to the Holy See without the consent of the cardinal;
  16. the cardinal may personally supervise and visit the diocese;
  17. the cardinal retains the right of assisting at marriages and of administering the other sacraments. The auxiliary is charged specially with examining candidates for tonsure and the other orders; but he may not confer or authorize the conferring of orders without the permission of the cardinal;
  18. the diocesan synod is to be held with the consent and in the name of the cardinal, who alone has the right of approving and promulgating its decrees;
  19. uniting or dividing benefices, even parochial, requires the consent of the cardinal, who
  20. is to be consulted on appointments to offices and chairs in the seminary;
  21. after the death or transfer of the suffragan, the cardinal through his vicar general shall provide for the government of the diocese till the appointment of a new suffragan;
  22. when a cardinal-bishop dies the same ceremonies shall take place as are customary on the deaths of resident cardinal-bishops.


ANDREUCCI, Hierarchia eccl., I, tr. iii; PHILLIPS, Kirchenrecht, VI (Ratisbon, 1864), 145-220; FERRARIS, Prompta bibl., s.v. cardinalis; Acta Apost. Sedis (1910), fasc. 7, 279 sqq.

About this page

APA citation. Benigni, U. (1912). Suburbicarian Dioceses. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Benigni, Umberto. "Suburbicarian Dioceses." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Herman F. Holbrook. Et unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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