Spain’s “Scrap Cathedral” survives after the death of its author

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Mejorada del Campo (Spain) (AFP) – For more than 60 years, the former monk Justo Gallego had built a cathedral from scavenged 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 Mejorada del Campo complex to a charity run by a priest who is committed to completing his labor of love.

Gallego began the project in 1961 when he was in his mid-30s on land he inherited from his family after a bout of tuberculosis forced him to leave an order of Trappist monks.

Today, the “Cathedral of Justo” includes a crypt, two cloisters and 12 towers spread over 4,700 square meters (50,600 square feet), although the central dome still has no cover.

He used bricks, wood and other materials salvaged from old construction sites, as well as through donations that began to arrive once the project became known.

The “Cathedral of Justo” includes a crypt, two cloisters and 12 towers spread over 4,700 square meters (50,600 square feet), although the central dome still has no cover. Gabriel BOUYS AFP

The building’s pillars are made from stacked oil barrels while the windows have been paved and glued together from shards of colored glass.

“Recycling is all the rage now, but he used it 60 years ago when no one was talking about it,” said Juan Carlos Arroyo, engineer and architect at engineering firm Calter.

The charity that is taking over the project, “Messengers of Peace”, hired the company to assess the structural soundness of the building, which has no permit.

No plan

“The structure withstood major weather events throughout its construction,” Arroyo told AFP, predicting that it would only need “small surgeries”.

Work continues at Justo Cathedral in Mejorada del Campo, 20 kilometers east of Madrid
Work continues at the Cathedral of Justo in Mejorada del Campo, 20 kilometers east of Madrid Gabriel BOUYS AFP

Famous British architect Norman Foster visited the site in 2009 – when he came to Spain to collect an award – telling Gallego that he should be the one to receive the award, Arroyo added.

The robustness of the project is surprising given that Gallego had no formal training as a builder and worked without a plan.

In interviews, he has repeatedly said that the details of the cathedral are “in his head” and “everything comes from above”.

The complex is on a street called Avenida Antoni Gaudi, named after the architect behind Barcelona’s iconic Sagrada Familia basilica which has been under construction since 1883.

But unlike the Sagrada Familia, the Cathedral of Justo Gallego as it is known is not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as a place of worship.

‘Worth visiting’

Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez, the maverick priest who heads the Messengers of Peace, wants to transform the Gallego building into an inclusive space for all faiths and used to help the poor.

"It will not be a typical cathedral, but a social center," says Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez, the maverick priest who heads the NGO
“It will not be a typical cathedral, but a social center,” said Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez, the maverick priest who heads the NGO “Messengers of Peace”. Gabriel BOUYS AFP

“There are already too many cathedrals and too many churches, which are sometimes short of people,” he said.

“It will not be a typical cathedral, but a social center where people can come to pray or if they encounter difficulties,” he added.

Father Angel is famous in Spain for running a restaurant serving meals for the homeless and a church in central Madrid where pets are welcome and worshipers can confess via iPad.

Inside Justo’s Cathedral, volunteers continued to work on the structure as a constant stream of visitors strolled the grounds admiring the building in the indescribable suburb.

“If the means are put in, especially the materials and the money, to finish it, then it will be a very beautiful place of worship,” said Ramon Calvo, 74, who was visiting the place with friends.


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