Justo Gallego Martinez' Cathedral
by John Bascombe on Thursday, October 9, 2014
The Cathedral of Mejorada del Campo
Justo Gallego Martínez has spent over 50 years absorbed in an intriguing one-man mission: to single-handedly build a cathedral from scratch. It’s all part of a seemingly impossible dream that materialized after his period as a young trappist monk. A deeply devout Don Justo had spent 8 years with a trappist monastery when he contracted tuberculosis in 1961. For the safety of the community, he was forced to leave. Devastated, the former monk returned to his home town of Mejorada, Spain and promptly went about building what he calls “an offering to God”.
Today, the Spanish countryside surrounding Don Justo’s property has undergone dramatic change since he positioned the first bricks of his personal cathedral over half a century ago. Don Justo’s incredibly determined ambition to construct his ideal temple has not changed.
His massive unfinished structure, towering 131 feet into the sky, has been described as both beautiful and baffling. Complete with imposing spires, a wonderful dome made of plastic food tubes and structural columns made of empty oil drums, the cathedral is composed mostly of recycled stuff, or junk as the BBC referred to it in their piece entitled Madman Builds Cathedral from Junk. Even more remarkable is the fact that the unassisted building madman has, in his own words “never had any training in the building profession”, nor has he had any construction plans or even building permission. The striking construction has not received any church blessing.
Equipped with recycled tools, building materials such as old bicycle parts, and inspiration extracted from a hodgepodge of monuments such as the White House and St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, Don Justo has asserted that he will continue to build “until the end of his days”. Donations and occasional volunteer support help construction continue.
His life and work have earned a curious mixed bag of reactions from observers. Many see the lone constructer and his enormous shrine as a source of inspiration, looking to his impressive architectural achievement with great admiration. Others see him as blurring the line that separates self determination and sheer madness, a clear case of when devotion spins hopelessly out of control. Some neighbors consider the one-man monument-in-progress an eyesore, as it dominates the local landscape and overshadows the surrounding apartments. Some have also questioned the safety of the unlicensed building made of scraps.
Don Justo appeared in a 2005 TV commercial for the sports drink Aquarius, turning Don Justo into a brief sensation. In 2003 the cathedral was mentioned in an exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The 2009 film The Madman and the Cathedral offers a personal portrait of this unique figure.
It’s not clear if he will ever achieve his dream, it’s not even clear if his dream involves completing the colossal structure, the work of which seems to give his life meaning. The cathedral is nowhere near completion. Don Justo has also affirmed that if he had his life to live again he’d build the cathedral again, only bigger “twice the size, because for me, this is an act of faith”.
The work is paradoxically one of selfless devotion and one of self absorbed toil, one that reminds us that many of us are building our own cathedrals. It seems that many of us remain lost, enclosed, indeed closed off from the world within our own constructions, perhaps having long lost sight of why we began them, in our determination to reach a horizon that never gets closer, constructions that nevertheless can serve as inspiration, or at least touch the lives of others in some way; the Cathedral of Mejorada reminds us that we all have an instinctive desire to leave our mark on the world.
Keywords: justo gallego martinez,mejorada,don justo,trappist monk