It is, at its simplest, an ex-monk's act of faith. After eight years in a Trappist order -- and just prior to taking his vows -- Don Justo Gallego Martinez contracted tuberculosis and had to leave to avoid contaminating other monks. Devastated by his dismissal, Don Justo decided to make an offering to God: a giant, self-built cathedral.
The determined man laid the foundation stone in 1963, on land inherited from his parents in Mejorada del Campo, just outside Madrid. Working with no construction permit, no financing, and no formal plan, Don Justo has since spent 10 hours per day building his cathedral out of recycled and donated materials. Petrol drums, paint buckets, scrap metal, and bricks salvaged from a nearby brick factory are all pasted together with thick layers of concrete to form the walls and spires. There is no blueprint for the building -- the design is influenced by St. Peter's basilica but has changed over the years according to Don Justo's shifting inspirations.
The cathedral now stands 131 feet tall and is about 10 to 15 years away from completion -- a problem, considering its chief builder is 88. The fate of the building post-Don Justo is up in the air. As an unapproved construction it could well be razed, eliminating the life's work of a most persistent man.
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