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Builder dies, leaving recycled cathedral unfinished

09 December 2021

The Spanish former seminarian began building 60 years ago


Justo Gallego Martínez’s unfinished cathedral in Mejorada del Campo, Spain

Justo Gallego Martínez’s unfinished cathedral in Mejorada del Campo, Spain

A SPANISH layman who was popularly dubbed “God’s crazy bricklayer” has died, aged 96, after single-handedly constructing a “cathedral” for six decades out of discarded masonry and recycled junk.

“Tenacity and faith were his hallmarks: stone by stone, he built his dream, attracting visitors and media interest from all over the world,” the city council of Mejorada del Campo said in a statement.

“The spirit of his work will remain eternally in the hearts of those who admired this cathedral — a work of genius built on lifelong immovable qualities of faith, perseverance, and dedication.”

The statement was published at the start of three days of public mourning in the municipality, near Madrid, for Justo Gallego Martínez, a former seminarian, who began his project in 1961, in thanksgiving for his recovery from tuberculosis.

It said that Mr Martínez had no knowledge of architecture or engineering, and had survived on “sweat and intuition”, as well as “effort and tenacity grounded in his faith”, and that the “lonely builder” had died “where he wanted to be, alone in his cathedral”.

Born into a devout farming family in 1925, Mr Martínez’s education was disrupted by the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War, during which he witnessed anti-clerical republican forces shooting priests and looting churches.

He entered the Trappist order as a novice, but was forced to leave after contracting TB, and began building the cathedral on a plot inherited from his parents in honour of the Virgin of Pillar.

The 86,000 square-foot building, with a 120-foot dome modelled on St Peter’s Basilica, in Rome, was built without a crane, and includes a crypt, side chapels, cloisters, a baptistery, library, and accommodation block, as well as 2000 stained-glass windows.

AlamyJusto Gallego Martinez at the site of the cathedral. The photo is from 2006

Materials were donated by construction companies and a brick factory, while its 12 columns and 28 cupolas were built from oil drums and other discarded metal.

The former Trappist was assisted latterly by six family members and occasional volunteers. The work was funded with rent from farmland, private donations, and a 2005 soft-drink advertisement.

The “junk cathedral” was not given planning permission or official authorisation, and was not recognised as a sacral object by Spain’s predominant Roman Catholic Church, which made no comment on Martínez’s death.

Spanish newspapers reported, however, that a certified architect had now volunteered services to arrange the cathedral’s legalisation, while a Spanish RC peace association, Mensajeros de la Paz (Messengers of Peace), had taken over its ownership and promised to complete it.

”Having first promised a simple hermitage to the Virgin Mary, he then wanted to offer her something much better,” Messengers of Peace said in a statement.

”It saddens us that he has gone without seeing it finished — but he dedicated his life’s work to creating this precious cathedral, and it will now always bear his name: Justo’s Cathedral.”

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