For over 60 years, former monk Justo Gallego had been building a cathedral out of scrap materials on the outskirts of Madrid, a project he would never see completed.
The 96-year-old died over the weekend, but left the unfinished complex in Mejorada del Campo to a charity run by a priest that has vowed to complete his labour of love.
Gallego began the project in 1961 when he was in his mid-30s on land inherited from his family after a bout of tuberculosis forced him to leave an order of Trappist monks.
Today, the “Cathedral of Justo” features a crypt, two cloisters and 12 towers spread over 4,700 square metres, although the central dome still does not have a cover.
He used bricks, wood and other material scavenged from old building sites, as well as through donations that began to arrive once the project became better known.
The building’s pillars are made from stacked oil drums while windows have been cobbled and glued together from shards of coloured glass.
“Recycling is fashionable now, but he used it 60 years ago when nobody talked about it,” said Juan Carlos Arroyo, an engineer and architect with engineering firm Calter.
The charity that is taking over the project, “Messengers of Peace”, hired the firm to assess the structural soundness of the building, which lacks a permit.
“The structure has withstood significant weather events throughout its construction,” Arroyo said, predicting it will only need some “small surgical interventions”.
Renowned British architect Norman Foster visited the site in 2009 — when he came to Spain to collect a prize — telling Gallego that he should be the one getting the award, Arroyo added.
The sturdiness of the project is surprising given that Gallego had no formal training as a builder, and he worked without a blueprint. In interviews, he repeatedly said that the details for the cathedral were “in his head” and “it all comes from above”. — AFP