One of the most important episcopal sees of the early Church, traditionally believed to have been founded by the evangelist Mark. It originally had metropolitan jurisdiction over the whole of Egypt, and gradually became recognized as holding an even wider or patriarchal authority, next to that of Rome, until Constantinople took second place in the fourth century. For its early history in this connection, see PATRIARCH. The rise of heresies and divisions in the Church, so zealously combated by famous incumbents of this see, such as Athanasius and Cyril, led to schisms. The Monophysites contested the see with the orthodox or occupied it through a large part of the fifth and sixth centuries, and from the seventh century the Melchites and Copts continued the same conflict. The Coptic patriarchs maintained close relations with the Jacobite patriarchs of Antioch, and enjoyed the larger share of the favor of the Mohammedan rulers. In the fourteenth century, however, they as well as their Melchite rivals were subjected to severe persecutions. When the city was conquered by the crusaders in 1365, the Melchite patriarch was living in Constantinople under the protection of the patriarch of that see, whose influence continually increased in Alexandria, until the Alexandrian patriarchs came to be regularly chosen either from the clergy of Constantinople or from Alexandrian clergy resident there.

The seat of the patriarchate was for a long while in Old Cairo, but in modern times the incumbent has usually resided in Constantinople. Since 1672 he has had only four metropolitans under him; namely, those of Ethiopia (purely titular), Cairo (the former Memphis), Damietta (transferred from Pelusium), and Rosetta. The Coptic see was transferred to Old Cairo still earlier, under Christodoulos (1045-76), and claims jurisdiction over thirteen bishoprics. See COPTIC CHURCH; EGYPT.