Justo Gallego Martinez, an 89-year-old farmer and former monk from Spain, has spent over 50 years of his life single-handedly building a large cathedral in a suburb of Madrid. He has no prior architectural knowledge or construction experience at all. Nor does he have any planning permission.
This has not stopped him from realising his goal of creating a place of worship, with design inspiration coming from St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, the White House in Washington and churches throughout Spain.
Don Justo, (the name he has become known by), joined a Trappist monastery in the 1950s. He spent 8 years there but was forced to leave in 1961, after he contracted tuberculosis.
The seeds of his cathedral dream were made there. Don Justo promised himself that if he survived the illness he would dedicate his life to building a a chapel in the name of the Lady of The Pillar (the Blessed Virgin Marry), who he prayed to while he was unwell.
50 years on, the outer dimensions of the main building are 20×50 metres, creating a total built up area of around 8,000m2. Incredibly, the build also includes a crypt as well as an adjacent complex of minor chapels, cloisters, lodgings and a library.
The dome of the main building is 40 meters in height and is 12 meters in diameter. With very little finances for his project, Justo has sourced building materials and construction tools from where ever he could find them.
This includes everyday objects, excess constructions materials donated by local companies and a nearby brick factory. The columns have been made from recycled petrol drums, and the cover of one cupola is made from discarded plastic tubes.
The 40 meter high construction has been achieved without the use of any crane. Don Justo, now 89 years old literally climbs into the hoisters starting at 6am everyday to continue building his dream.
The shell of the edifice may be almost finished, but for Justo there is still much work to be completed. The cathedral has thousands of windows that need to be painted, and the main central dome is not covered. All of the floors are bare and the spiral staircase is unfinished. Don Justo is well aware he might not live long enough to see his masterpiece finished, but still he says “When I look at what I’ve created, it overwhelms me and I give thanks to the Lord.”
The build has received a lot of media attention over recent years, with many tourists visiting in order to view the spectacle as a result. One very good documentary on the man and his dream can be viewed below: