5 Feb, 2014 @ 12:16
2 mins read

Ex-monk’s mission to finish building cathedral before he dies

JUSTO Gallego Martinez is a man with a mission – to build a cathedral before he dies.

His story is a remarkable tale of faith, hope and charity.

During the Spanish Civil War, the then frightened 10-year old, witnessed priests being shot and the ransacking of his local church.

Then as a young man, Don Justo, as he is now known, worked the land, but left the green green grass of home behind to become a trappist monk.

Sadly, after eight years of the strict monastic regime, he was struck down by tuberculosis and had to leave.

But he promised that if he ever recovered from that dreadful lung disease, he would build a cathedral.

So on October 12, 1961 – the feast of the Virgin of the Pillar – he started to build his dream dome.

What was even more remarkable, was that Justo was neither architect nor engineer and he hadn’t even worked with bricks before.

To make things worse, he didn’t have planning permission from the authorities in the town of Mejorada del Campo and when it came to design – “the plans have only ever existed in my head.”

But since that moment more than have a century ago, he has toiled on his own 10 hours a day from six in the morning – apart from Sundays when he attends mass at the local church.

At first, many people laughed at him, some cruelly calling him el loco de la iglesia, but Justo remains undeterred, explaining that “it’s an act of faith.”

But others have been kind to him – construction companies have donated materials and he has even been given help from a local brickworks. Their charity has made his job a little easier.

Justo is also green through and through – using lots of recycled materials, including old petrol drums for the cathedral columns.

He gets his inspiration from several buildings, including St Peter’s in Vatican City and even the White House.

But there is one thing against him – time. Justo is now 88 and he is well aware that when he dies the whole building could be demolished.

It may take another 15 to 20 years to complete – so there are fears that it could prove . . .  a mission impossible.

Justo does not want to talk about the future and how his body will cope in the years to come. All he can do is hope. He simply gets on with his daily work, piece by piece, building his dome alone.

So how is he getting on with realising his dream? The building shell covers the 20×50 metre plot. Some 8,000m2 have been built or are underway.

They include a complex ensemble of cloisters, offices, lodgings and a library. The cathedral has a dome rising to 40 metres with 12 metres diameter.

The steel girders were raised on pulleys with the help of his six nephews – because he could not get a crane

So far, not one architect or builder has been prepared to take responsibility for his complex and concerns have been expressed over the structure’s safety.

Justo has financed his work by renting out some inherited farmland, some of which he has already sold. Donations from supporters and visitors are welcomed.

Most of the materials are recycled  The columns are moulded using old petrol drums, the window arches carry the marks of the tires they were moulded in and bicycle wheels have been used as pulleys.

Although Justo has received no official recognition, this monument to the human spirit has attracted documentary film makers and tourists have flocked to admire his work of art.

Tom Powell

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