One man and his cathedral

Justo Martinez has devoted his life to a single construction project

Maria Kugelmann

For the third time in nine years I am on my way to Mejorado del Campo, a short distance outside Madrid close to the airport. A commuter town of no particular attraction but it is the town were Justo Gallego Martinez grew up and has been working on his cathedral since 1961.

I remember watching a documentary in the 1980s about Spain and a reference to a man building a cathedral all by himself. Little did I know that years later with the help of the internet would I find out the exact location of the building.

Don Justo as he is called was born in 1925 and from a very young age felt a deep Christian faith which made him decide to enter a Cistercian monastery at the age of 27. When he became ill with tuberculosis he was asked to leave the monastery out of fear for the health of the rest of the community.

He returned to Mejorado del Campo and recovered but was unhappy that his desire to live a monastic life could not be fulfilled.

On a piece of land that he inherited from his parents Justo began work on the idea that was to become his life’s work – which he dedicated entirely  to God. With no architectural knowledge and an education cut short due to the Spanish Civil war Justo found himself reading books about cathedrals, castles and other significant buildings which guided him in his vision.

“It is all in my head” he says. “Above all the principal source and light of inspiration for me is the Word of Christ”. He is the one who enlightens and comforts me and I offer my gratitude to Him for the life he has given me.”


Working mainly with recycled and donated construction material Justo only gets help from a local man and some volunteers. No official permission exists and over the years various Mayors of Mejorado del Campo were not always in favour of his project.

Not much seems to have changed since my last visit in 2012 and walking around makes me feel as if nothing new has happened, the dome still isn’t covered but how could it be as this is the most dangerous part of the cathedral to work on and at the age of nearly 89 how could Don Justo go up to that height?  But then there is always some evidence that work is going on and what fascinates me most is that amongst all the unfinished corners and heaps of rubble and construction material signs of his deep faith is everywhere, a cross, a small statue of Our Lady, a painting of the Last Supper or a quote from the Bible written on a cement wall.

It is clear that Don Justo will not be able to complete this work by himself but the way he lived his life will fascinate generations to come I am sure.

When leaving I wish him good health and that he may be able to continue many more years. “Se Dios quiere” he says, “If God wants.”