A primate in the Western Church is an archbishop or bishop who has authority not just over the bishops of his own province, as a Metropolitan does, but over a number of provinces, such as a national church. It corresponds to the title of Exarch of the Eastern Church.
The title is often encountered in the churches of the Anglican Communion, which is divided into provinces each of which usually has a metropolitan. The senior metropolitan in the national church is called the primate, though this title was only in recent years added by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States.
In England, however, the metropolitans of the two provinces of Canterbury and York, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York, are Primate of All England and Primate of England respectively. It reflects the compromise struck between the Archbishops of York (who wanted to emphasise the equality of the archbishops) and the Archbishops of Canterbury (who wanted to emphasise the seniority of Canterbury). In Ireland, both the Anglican Church of Ireland and the Roman Catholic Church style their respective Archbishops of Armagh and Archbishops of Dublin Primate of All Ireland and Primate of Ireland respectively.
In the Roman Catholic Church, the term is generally found in the older Catholic countries, and is now purely honorific. The title is typically vested in one of the oldest Archdioceses in a country, if it exists. The see city may no longer have the prominence it had when the diocese was created. In the United States the Archbishop of Baltimore is called "honorary primate", as most dioceses in the country trace their origin to Baltimore, which was first in the nation.
A selection of countries and their Roman Catholic primates:
- Brazil...Archbishop of Sao Salvador da Bahia
- Canada...Archbishop of Quebec
- France...Archbishop of Lyon ("Primate of the Gauls")
- Hungary...Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest
- Poland...traditionally Archbishop of Gniezno,an exception for the incumbent Archbishop of Warsaw who headed both archdioceses until 1992
- Portugal...Patriarch of Lisbon
- Spain...Archbishop of Toledo