Whenever we talk about any DIY endeavor, it is pretty much assumed that the project is scaled down when compared to its commercial counterpart. However, the above pictured massive cathedral with its centrally-located 40 m (131 ft) tall giant dome tower, stands proudly as a contradicting testament to this notion. That is because this imposing religious structure in Mejorada del Campo (a town close to Madrid), was designed almost single-handedly by Justo Gallego Martinez. Also known as Don Justo, the man had spent almost eight years in the Trappist order. But before he could take his vows, he was afflicted by tuberculosis, and had to sadly leave his fraternity. Partly devastated and partly egged-on by this life-changing decision, Don Justo decided to make a grand offering to God to justify his faith. As a result, he started working on building a cathedral in 1963, with its site being inherited from his parents.
Interestingly, Don Justo didn’t have any formal training in either the construction business or architecture. So the entire work started without any definitive municipality-passed plan or permit, which meant that the project didn’t have any official financial backing (even from other church establishments). But Don Justo wasn’t deterred by all these obstacles, as he proceeded on to use whatever building materials he could manage to salvage.
As a consequence, one could find a slew of materials showcased by the unfinished building – mostly sourced from recycled facilities and locally-made donations. These include a higgledy-piggledy arrangement of columns made from concrete-filled plastic buckets (while being molded from empty oil drums), a cupola covering created from plastic food tubs, gaudily painted walls that depict Biblical scenes and even stair lips that are formed from twisted metal coils.
Oddly enough, this seemingly helter-skelter scope is inspired by established historical works of architecture and craftsmanship, like the renowned St. Peters Basilica in Vatican City and even the White House in Washington DC (as later admitted by Don Justo himself). However, Martínez has also made it clear that the design ambit has to be altered every now and then – with eclectic influences derived from other European castles, along with practical adjustments made in accordance with the availability of materials and time.
And since we have brought up the element of time, Don Justo had been pouring more than ten hours every day except Sundays (for the last 53 years) into the vast construction phase of the ‘assorted’ cathedral. In fact, his day starts before dawn at 0400, when he personally salvages many of the rejected bricks and broken tiles from local factories and yards. He is also helped by a local man named Angel Lopez Sanchez, along with his six nephews and occasional volunteers.
But unfortunately, the cathedral with its humongous 131-ft high central dome is still unfinished, with an estimated requirement of 10 more years for its overall completion. This time-scale certainly pertains to a construction predicament, since the chief designer (and patron) of the project is already 89 years old.
More crucially, from the context of practicality, there is every chance that the diversified building could be officially torn down after the passing of its chief benefactor. One of the major reasons being the unavailability of official license at such a later stage. Furthermore, the recycled bricks and their layout techniques do not really conform to standard building practices followed in the region.
But Don Justo remains hopeful with his belief that the multifarious edifice is still the icon of the less-traveled town. And lastly, one thing is for certain – the humble builder reserves no regrets for his grandiose offering to God, as made clear by this succinct statement –
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.