Spain's scrap cathedral - An ex-monk's 60-year labour of faith, devotion & castoffs - Episode 76

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

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About 20 km east of Madrid, in the small town of Mejorada del Campo, stands a building that testifies to a former monk's lifetime of devotion to the Catholic faith. The Don Justo Cathedral. A cathedral like no other.

The structure has been built by Don Justo Gallego Martinez - a former monk - using nothing but recycled, scavenged and donated materials giving the building chaotic, eclectic and perplexing, if not impressive style.

After eight years in a Trappist order at Soria‘s Santa Maria de la Huerta monastery, Don Justo Gallego Martinez was ordered to leave, for fear of infecting the other monks with tuberculosis that he had been diagnosed with.

When his mother died in 1963 and bequeathed to him a large plot of land, including an olive grove in the center of the town, Gallego had an idea. If he would never again be allowed to enter a Catholic church as an ordained member of the faith, then he would express his devotion in a magnificent way. He would build his own church. In fact he would build his own Cathedral from scratch and make a shrine to “Our Lady of the Pillar”, or Nuestra Señora del Pilar.

The Don Justo Cathedral

Don Justo Gallego Martinez

Building materials inside Don Justo Cathedral

The incredible thing about this place of worship is that practically all building materials used to construct it have been scavenged or donated by local construction companies. As you walk around the cathedral you can see columns made of concrete-filled plastic buckets or air ducts and stairs whose lips are formed from coils of wire, among other things. Today, Don Justo, as he is known, is 95 years old. The cathedral still needs at least ten years of work, years that its creator simply doesn’t have. Yet, such is his devotion that he still works on its construction every day, except Sundays.

Cupolas on the Don Justo Cathedral

Today the frame of a huge structure, with a 50-meter-tall dome modeled on St. Peter’s in Rome, towers over the town of Mejorada del Campo. Like the cathedrals of old, it will not reach completion during Don Justo’s lifetime. What will happen to the building after Gallego’s death remains an open question. No one has yet stepped up to take over the project, nor is his cathedral recognized by the Catholic Church.

The huge main cupola of the Don Justo Cathedral

The Don Justo Cathedral

How to get there

Catedral de Justo is located in Mejorada del Campo, a small town just 20km from Madrid. To get there, there are two public buses from the center: Avenida de América (line 282) and Conde de Casal (line 341). The bus stop in Mejorada del Campo is called Calle de Arquitecto Antoni Gaudí and is located right in front of the cathedral. However, going by car is a better option, so you can continue your day-trip to Alcalá de Heneres, Cervantes’ hometown, which is about half an hour away.

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