The seat of the Bishop of Rome is called "the Holy See". What does "see" mean?

Does it mean “Holy Sea”, as the word “see” could be an archaic spelling of the word “sea”. It would make sense, because there is an unholy sea in the Bible also, called “Lake of fire”. It sure sounds like “Holy Sea”, because it makes most sense language-wise.

  • I will give Ken a +1 for producing the most comprehensive and stylish answer. However I will afford Geremia the tick for supplying the answer that best met with what I was looking for, which was an explanation on what “see” in “Holy see” meant. Because he posted his answer first, and he answered the question already in his first sentence. Which was really all I needed to know. Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 10:13
  • There's really no sense language wise to this, no more than mistaking God the Son for the Sun. You're lucky you got two good answers because this question is extremely basic and would have been very easy for you to find the answer to yourself.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 13:24
  • If you say the words "Holy See" to a child and ask the child to draw a picture of what you said. I am certain that ten out out of ten children would draw a body of water. It is very hard to picture a "See". Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 15:22
  • Luckily you're not limited to only asking children for the meaning of words.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 15:33
  • True. This site is very good in that regard. Thx for your input. Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 23:36

2 Answers 2


"See" comes from the Latin word sedes, which means "seat" or "chair".

"Holy See" is Sedes Apostolica (lit. "Apostolic Chair") in Latin.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives this etymology for see, n.1:

Etymology: < Anglo-Norman see, sed, sied, siet, sez, siez, Anglo-Norman and Old French se, sie, Middle French sie, siet dwelling (c 1100), capital city (c 1100), cathedral city (1139 or earlier), cathedral (a 1175), diocese (12th cent.), throne (second half of the 12th cent.), seat (second half of the 13th cent. or earlier), the papacy (1360) < classical Latin sēdēs seat (see sedes n.).

Compare siege n. and seat n.

Compare Old Occitan ses, se, sea (12th cent.), Catalan seu (14th cent.), Spanish †sey, †, †seo (1266), Portuguese (13th cent.).


[In patristic writers (e.g. Augustine, 5th cent.) post-classical Latin Sedes Apostolica ‘Apostolic See’ was applied more widely to any of the bishoprics founded by apostles; in medieval writers (e.g. in the 11th cent.) it occurs also in the general sense of ‘cathedral’.]

St. John Lateran's basilica is the Pope's cathedral (cathedra = chair), and this is his chair there:

cathedra Lateranensis

  • I believe it was unintentional, but I rolled back your edit the picture of the same thing from Ken's post since he gives a lot more context to the "Chair" It seems more appropriate in his post.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 12:19
  • Thx for supplying the dictionary explanation. I knew that “chair” applied to a person leading an assembly, but I didn’t know that “see” meant “chair”. Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 12:35

What does “see” in “The Holy See” mean?

Each bishop and archbishop has the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of an episcopal see. The Roman Pontiff (Pope) has complete jurisdiction of the Holy See, also known as Vatican City.

An episcopal see is, in the usual meaning of the phrase, the area of a bishop's ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

Phrases concerning actions occurring within or outside an episcopal see are indicative of the geographical significance of the term, making it synonymous with diocese.

The word see is derived from Latin sedes, which in its original or proper sense denotes the seat or chair that, in the case of a bishop, is the earliest symbol of the bishop's authority. This symbolic chair is also known as the bishop's cathedra, and is placed in the diocese principal church, which for that reason is called the bishop's cathedral, from Latin ecclesia cathedralis, meaning the church of the cathedra. The word throne is also used, especially in the Eastern Orthodox Church, both for the seat and for the area of ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

The term "see" is also used of the town where the cathedral or the bishop's residence is located.

Within Catholicism, each diocese is considered to be a see unto itself with a certain allegiance to the See of Rome. The idea of a see as a sovereign entity is somewhat complicated due to the existence of the 23 Particular Churches of the Catholic Church. The Western Church and its Eastern Catholic counterparts all reserve some level of autonomy, yet each also is subdivided into smaller sees (dioceses and archdioceses). The episcopal see of the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, is known as "the Holy See" or "the Apostolic See", claiming Papal supremacy.- Episcopal See (Wikipedia)

Further information can be obtained in the follow articles:

Holy See (Wikipedia)

The Apostolic See (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Vatican City (Wikipedia)


The Chair of Saint Peter (Latin: Cathedra Petri), also known as the Throne of Saint Peter, is a relic conserved in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, the sovereign enclave of the Pope inside Rome, Italy. The relic is a wooden throne that tradition claims the Apostle Saint Peter, the leader of the Early Christians in Rome and first Pope, used as Bishop of Rome. The relic is enclosed in a sculpted gilt bronze casing designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and executed between 1647 and 1653. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI described the chair as "a symbol of the special mission of Peter and his Successors to tend Christ’s flock, keeping it united in faith and in charity."

The wooden throne was a gift from Holy Roman Emperor Charles the Bald to Pope John VIII in 875. It has been studied many times over the years, the last being from 1968 to 1974, when it was last removed from the Bernini altar. That study concluded that it was not a double, but rather a single, chair with a covering and that no part of the chair dated earlier than the sixth century.

The Chair is the cathedra of St. Peter's Basilica. Cathedra is Latin for "chair" or "throne", and denominates the chair or seat of a bishop, hence "cathedral" denominates the Bishop's church in an episcopal see. The Popes formerly used the Chair. It is distinct from the Papal Cathedra in St. John Lateran Archbasilica, also in Rome, which is the actual cathedral church of the Pope. - Chair of St. Peter

Chair of St. Peter

Chair of St. Peter

  • 3
    You get my vote for explaining that it's not just referring to the seat/throne, but also to the jurisdiction.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jul 28, 2019 at 5:24
  • When they tried to get a Spanish pope elected a while back, his contemporaries put together a song to garner support for him. I think you know the tune .. it starts like this .. Jose, can you see Commented Jul 29, 2019 at 13:46

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