A recent soft drinks television advert in Spain has bought hope to Justo Gallego Martinez and his dream to finish a project he started 50 years ago – a cathedral which he has built virtually single-handed mostly from recycled materials.
Justo Gallego, now in his late seventies, is a farmer and has no qualifications. He has built the cathedral in Mejorada del Campo, a small town just 20km from Madrid, on land he inherited from his parents, and has never applied for a building licence because the cathedral lacks plans with the official arquitect’s stamp of approval required by Spanish law in order for an application for planning permission to be successful. Justo says that the plans for the remarkable building exist in his mind rather than on paper.
Driven, in his own words, by faith in God and in his project, Justo Gallego gradually became quite a celebrity in Spain and abroad as the dimensions of his cathedral project became clear in the eighties and nineties.
However given the sheer size of the project, and the fact that he had to build it largely alone because he lacked funds to hire helpers, in recent years it became doubtful whether or not he would actually live to see his cathedral complete. And even if he did, Justo was aware that authorities may demolish it as soon as he died because of the lack of official support from the town authorities. The cathedral, which draws thousands of visitors to the town, is not even mentioned in the official website of Mejorada del Campo.
The old man, who lived in a monastry when he was a young man for some years but was forced to leave before taking his vows due to ill health, has dedicated his cathedral to the Nuestra Señora del Pilar, Madre de Jesús and has bequeathed it to the Bishopric of a nearby town, Alcalá de Henares.
Until now, Justo funded his cathedral with money earned by renting out farmland and accepting donations from supporters (money) and local building companies (building materials). When he could afford to, he hired a helper, but otherwise had to rely on the collaboration of volunteers and members of his family who have helped him over the years to build 8000 square meters, including various cloisters, offices, a library and a 40-metre dome based on the design of the dome of St.
Peters Cathedral in Rome.
This year his project has received an unexpected boost thanks to the latest advert of a popular energy drink. The advert uses Justo’s cathedral of an example of how to turn dreams into reality. The impact of the spot has been such that the company has set up a website through which Spaniards are able to donate money or simply express their support by posting messages on the site’s forum. Viewers can also see the advert, by clicking on the link JUSTO EN IMAGENES in the MENU at the top of the page. For the first time since he started the project, Justo will at last be able to hire builders and buy materials and may fulfill his dream of seeing the cathedral completed. And, given the public interest generated, the local authorities may be forced to leave the cathedral standing once Justo Gallego is no longer around to protect it.