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A patriarchal basilica used to refer to those churches at Rome ceremonially assigned to one of the Patriarchs. It must be distinguished from the concept of a major basilica which is a canonical class of church which includes four of the five patriarchal basilicas (excluding St Lawrence's) but which has been more generally extended to include any of several churches in which the high altar is reserved to the Pope or his representative.

Since the early 13th century, the "patriarchs" referred to in the title Patriarchal Basilicas were the Latin Rite ceremonial Patriarchs who lived as ornaments of the Papal Court and are now abolished, not the Eastern Patriarchs of those same cities. Before the late 20th century there was also a wish, never realised, that the basilicas would be seen as pertaining to the Eastern Catholic (or Orthodox) Patriarchs of the same cities to which the titles applied. In other words, once these Patriarchs were "reconciled" to the Catholic Church, these basilicas would become their Roman bases.

In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI formally abolished the title of “patriarchal basilica” previously given to these churches, and they should now be referred to a "papal basilicas". The traditional associations with the Five Ancient Patriarchates remain, but without any official standing.

The name patriarchal referred to these churches each having been assigned to one of the patriarchs. There were five: