Spanish Cathedral Result of One Man's Work

Forty years ago in a small town outside of Madrid, Don Justo Gallego Martinez began building a cathedral using scavenged building material. Now he's 81, and the cavernous cathedral he built by himself is nearing completion.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Some 40 years ago a Spanish monk was forced to quit a Trappist monastery after he contracted tuberculosis. He turned his religious zeal to building a cathedral one brick at a time with leftover rubble from other buildings. At first, people thought he was crazy. Jerome Socolovsky went to visit the cathedral near Madrid.

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: In a country peppered with castles and cathedrals, the bedroom community of Mejorada del Campo wouldn't exactly be a recommended place to visit.

(Soundbite of airplane)

SOCOLOVSKY: The town lies just under the final approach to Madrid's Barajas International Airport, but its unusual landmark, a cathedral that's still under construction, already brings visitors, like Deanna Bruno(ph) of Madrid.

Ms. DEANNA BRUNO (Madrid Resident): Well, it's amazing, absolutely amazing that only one man has been able to do all these things, especially thinking that he uses old material, not things that he gets from I don't know where.

SOCOLOVSKY: That man is 81-year-old Justo Gallego. Don Justo, as he's known, has devoted half his life to building his temple of faith. Now it has a dozen towers reaching to the heavens, or at least 130 feet. It looks a bit like a gigantic sand castle. The walls are made of unevenly laid bricks and the contours are a bit crude.

(Soundbite of welding)

SOCOLOVSKY: As he welds the frame of an arched window while perched on a balcony in the transept, Don Justo says he uses surplus materials donated by contractors.

Mr. DON JUSTO GALLEGO (Builder): (Soundbite of foreign language)

SOCOLOVSKY: I don't have much money, but what I have I give to the Lord. He gave me talent, he gave me an inheritance, so it's all for him, he said. Justo Gallego inherited half a million square feet of land, but he sold most of it to finance his dream. The cathedral occupies the remaining plots. Justo lives with his brother-in-law, Pablo Cantwell(ph).

Mr. GALLEGO: (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: It's mid-day, and Cantwell wants to know when Justo's coming over for lunch. Pablo Cantwell's wife cooks for her brother every day, as she's done for decades. Cantwell says his brother-in-law started the cathedral in a different Spain.

Mr. PABLO CANTWELL (Mr. Gallego's Brother-in-Law): (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: When Justo began, the man in charge was Francisco Franco, he says with a toothless grin. Cantwell claims, with pride, that the dictator approved of his brother-in-law's endeavor because churches has been burnt down by leftist anti-clerical forces during the Spanish Civil War.

Mr. CANTWELL: (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: When Franco died, things took a turn for the worst, the brother-in-law says. That was in the late '70s. The new local government said Justo Gallego needed a building permit for his cathedral, but that would have entailed a costly structural survey. Despite the bureaucratic problems, municipality spokeswoman Flora Souda(ph) says town hall appreciates what Don Justo's cathedral means for many people.

Ms. FLORA SOUDA (Municipality Spokeswoman: (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: There is such fervor and admiration that I don't know what would cause more problems, demolishing it or legalizing it, she said. But there is a ray of hope. A certified architect has offered Justo his services pro bono. Now all he needs are a few stained glass windows and the Lord's blessing, because soon he'll have to climb up his jerry-rigged scaffolding to make a dome roof. He says it will be modeled on the Sistine Chapel.

For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Mejorada del Campo, Spain.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: