December 13, 2008

Justo Gallego Martinez, Catedral/Cathedral

Justo Gallego Martinez
still (2009) from the Maria Heidemann video 
(see documentation) 

This is the story of a man who for the largest part of his life has been active in single-handedly  building a cathedral.

Life and works

Born in 1925 in a family of farmers, Justo Gallego Martinez for a number of years was a monk, until due to tuberculosis he had to quit the monastery. Eventually he recovered from this illness, which deepened his religious conviction.

The family owned a plot of land of 8000 m2 in Mejorada del Campo, a community near Madrid. On this plot Gallego wanted to create a building as an expression of his gratitude and his deep faith. On October 12, 1961 he laid the foundation stone.

Without any training in architecture, building technique or brickwork and without any building permit or construction drawings, but with the concept of classical architecture of cathedrals in his mind, he single handedly began building an imposing cathedral.

The local authorities did not intervene. However, they are not convinced of the firmness of the construct, but experts do not venture to advise them about this.

From 1961 on the building got more and more volume and currently it is 50 m long, 25 m wide and 35 m high (164x82x115 ft). The towers are 70 m (230 ft) high.

File:Cathedral of Justo Gallego.JPG

A man of modest means, Gallego made up the construction by using all kinds of recuperated materials. For example, the towers were constructed by using old oil drums, filled up with concrete.

Some firms donate their obsolete and excess materials and volunteers will occasionally assist him.  

The infrastructure for cathedral's dome, a steel grid, was realized and put in place with the help of family members. 

Since the late 1990s Gallego has a co-worker, Angel Lopez, who assists him every day.

The Spanish catholic church keeps silent about Gallego's activities, which also goes for the officials of architecture and Spain's artistic elite.

However, the creation attracts many (foreign) visitors, the project is well publicized on the internet and local public opinion seems to be in favor of Don Justo and his activities.

Early February 2018 the ABC newspaper from Madrid reported that the city council of Mejorada del Campo unanimously supported a motion to initiate the procedure to designate the Cathedral as a Bien de Interés Cultural, which will imply a protected status. The local administrators will draw up a report on this matter and submit it to the Consejería de Cultura de la Comunidad de Madrid.

Justo Gallego Martinez in 2020 is still working on his project, which means he has been active in building a cathedral for almost 60 years. He realizes that he will not be able to complete it. 

* Gabriele García Muñoz, "Aqui no hay Milagros". La Catedral de Justo Gallego cincuenta años después, in: Revista Sans Soleil/Bric-à-Brac, no 4 (2012), p 309-314
* Laia Rosa-Armengol, "La catedral inconclusa de Mejorado del Campo", in: Juan Antonio Ramirez, red, Escultecturas margivagantes: la arquitectura fantástica en España, p 214-227  Madrid (Siruela), 2006.
* Website The madman and the cathedral, about James Rogan's experiences, making a film about Don Justo (with a lot of background info).
* The site got a scholarly review in: Jo Farb Hernandez, Singular Spaces. From the Eccentric to the Extraordinary in Spanish Art Environments, Seattle (Raw Vision, SPACES, San José State University), 2013. An abridged version is on the website of SPACES.
* Video The lone man building a cathedral by hand  (subtitled in English, 2'27",  2016, YouTube)

* On YouTube many more videos about the Cathedral are available

first published December 2008, last revised October 2020

Justo Gallego Martinez
Calle de Santa Rosa/Calle del arquitecto Antonio Gaudi
Mejorada del Campo, Madrid region, Spain
visitors in general welcome if this fits into Gallego's daily activities 
(only on the ground floor and with decent clothing)