For many people, the difference between a church, cathedral and basilica is limited to size. A cathedral is a larger church and a basilica is a larger cathedral. However, this is not true.
A church is a house of worship, or a building where Christians gather to pray together, perform rituals, etc. Size doesn’t matter – a church can be a beautiful, huge edifice, or a simple little building.
A cathedral is a church, but a cathedral is not chosen for its size or splendour. Cathedrals are churches in which the bishop is seated. Therefore, it does not have to be the most beautiful or largest church in a given city. There is generally one cathedral per city. The cathedral is more important in the hierarchy than the church because it is from the cathedral that the bishop governs the area under his administrative authority. One of the most important features of a cathedral is that it has a bishop’s throne, from which the bishop addresses the faithful.
Basilicas were Roman buildings that were used as a market hall or court. Over time, the name came to include private homes if they were large enough and of the right shape. When Christians began to erect their own places of worship, they were modeled on Roman or Greek basilicas, and that is the name they received. However, over time, the term took on a new meaning.
Major vs minor basilicas
Today, a distinction is made between major basilicas and minor basilicas. Just as a cathedral must have a bishop’s throne, a major basilica must have a papal throne and an altar reserved exclusively for the pope or his authorized prelates. The minor basilica is an honorary title. It is given to churches and cathedrals that stand out for their historic, liturgical, pilgrimage and pastoral value. There is a whole list of formal requirements to be met by a given building in order to obtain the title of a basilica, but in a very simple way such a building must be historic, have a patron and attract religious tourism (e.g. in the case of a church which is considered by the faithful as a place of miraculous healings).
Finally, we would like to emphasize again that the described conditions are oversimplifications, as there are more formal requirements for an object to bear such a name. If you are interested in learning more about the subject, we invite you to read the following sources.