Don Just - The man building a cathedral
Meet Justo Gallego Martínez, aka Don Just, who was born on 20 September 1925. That makes him 90 years old, a noteworthy fact in its own right. What is more remarkable about the man is that he has made it his life’s work to nearly singlehandedly construct a remarkable cathedral, but more of that later.
This is his story:
- Gallego Martinez was raised as a Catholic and at age 10 witnessed communist forces fighting in the Spanish Civil War shoot priests and ransack churches. He became a Trappist monk but contracted tuberculosis in 1961 at age 36 and was expelled from the monastery.
- Gallego prayed to Our Lady of the Pillar (an alternative Spanish name for the Virgin Mary) and promised to build a shrine in her honour if he was made well, commencing construction of a cathedral on some land he had inherited from his parents.
- He began building the cathedral in 1961 and has worked on it every day since, except on Sundays when he attends Mass.
- The cathedral does not have planning permission and does not have the blessing of the Catholic Church.
- Neither does Gallego have any overall plans and drawings for the building. Instead it has evolved, and been made up, as he goes along, deriving inspiration from various sources including St Peter’s Basilica, the White House in the US and various castles and churches in Spain.
- The vast central dome took 20 years to erect and there are two dozen more incomplete cupolas around the building. There are cloisters, a sacristy, even a cavernous crypt. Sections of several walls have been painted to depict scenes from the Bible.
- Most of the building materials and tools used for construction are recycled. This includes everyday objects and excess construction materials donated by construction companies and a nearby brick factory. The columns have been moulded with old petrol drums. The building work has been carried out without any crane. Gallego begins his day at 4.00am by collecting bits of brick, tiles and recycled materials from local factories, then starting physical work at 6.00am.
- Although Gallego Martinez has worked mostly alone on the project, he has received some assistance from time to time, including from a local named Angel Lopez Sanchez, and from his six nephews, (who helped place the girders for the dome). There have also been occasional volunteers.
“I thought the place was a ruin and Don Justo was a tramp, but we spent all day chatting, he fed me chorizo and as I had a lot of spare time, I told him I'd help. He got so deep into my heart that I'm still here today and very content."
- Angel Lopez Sanchez
- In 2005, an advertising campaign for the Aquarius soft drink gave him and his cathedral Spain-wide exposure.
- Gallego Martínez lives with his sister nearby.
- He has financed his work by selling and renting some of his inherited farmland. Private donations from supporters and visitors are also given.
- Residents of the area have mixed views on the ongoing project; some view it as a positive tourist attraction while others consider it merely an eyesore that officials have not done enough to prevent.
- The future of the cathedral is uncertain. The structure does not meet minimum standards and planning permission is difficult to get, even for properly prepared applications for proposed structures.
- Gallego Martinez has bequeathed his building to the local bishopric in the hope it can eventually serve as a fully functional parish church. He knows, however, that that may not happen.
- Meanwhile, Gallego Martinez keeps quietly working, building his cathedral in homage to God and the Virgin, a monument also to the human spirit and its capacity to persevere.
"If I lived my life again, I'd build this church again, only bigger. Twice the size, because for me, this is an act of faith."
- Gallego Martinez