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The unusual "Cathedral of Justus"


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El Confidencial Digital

Gerardo Castillo Ceballos

School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra

Many newspapers reported the death of Justo Gallego Martínez on November 28, 2021, at the age of 96. His life and his work raise in me an inevitable question: What would we think of someone who, in today's age, proposes to build a cathedral by himself, without being an architect and without having the financial means? Possibly that he is an "enlightened person", a dreamer or a madman similar to Don Quixote. This is exactly what his neighbors in Mejorada del Campo thought of the farmer and bricklayer Justo Gallego when he began work on a farm field inherited from his parents on October 12, 1961, the Day of the Pillar. A tuberculosis had made him give up his previous desire to enter a convent. And the promise of faith to build a cathedral if he was cured, radically changed his life.

Justo got up every day, except Sunday, at 3 a.m. to work on his cathedral. Almost all the construction materials were recycled, using those discarded by the town's companies. The self-taught builder did not need plans or construction projects, because he had "everything in his head".

 Due to illness, in April 2021 he gave his cathedral to the NGO "Messengers of Peace" of Father Angel, to finish the little that was missing to complete the project to which he had dedicated fifty years of his life. The building has an area of 4,700 square meters, 35 meters high, a large dome, a subway crypt, two cloisters, a baptistery, 12 towers and 200 stained glass windows.

The Museum of Modern Art of New York showed photos of "Justo's Cathedral" in one of its exhibitions in the 2003-2004 season. Justo was declared Favorite Son of the municipality and his work was proposal as an Asset of Cultural Interest. Every year it is visited by thousands of tourists.

What in the end were praises before were criticisms and humiliations from many neighbors, who considered him a deluded or disturbed person. I think that if what had been built had been a discotheque no one would have mocked its author. This reminds me of some lines of Lady MacDuff in Shakespeare's Maacbeth:

"But now I agreement that I am in this world,/where evil is often praiseworthy;/and, on the other hand, doing good is considered,/sometimes, a dangerous folly."

In 1926, an alchemist who signed with the pseudonym Fulcanelli, published "The mystery of the cathedrals", where he claimed to have reached a mystical state that he called "enlightenment", contemplating the stained glass windows of a Gothic cathedral. One wonders if the artistic quality and emotional impact of the ancient cathedrals also possesses that of Justo Gallego.

Architect Miguel Angel Flores mentions that historian Natalia Tubau's book "guide de arquitectura insólita" includes a selection of "eccentric" architecture made by people without training at subject and with mostly recycled materials. Natalia writes: "It is surprising what human beings can do moved by faith or by the desire to be unique". Miguel Ángel adds that "in this book he discovered Justo Gallego, a man who decided to show his faith by building a cathedral. Undoubtedly, his perseverance is absolutely praiseworthy. I must recognize his merit. He is a true dreamer who works every day on the work that gives meaning to his life."

The "Cathedral of Justo", so named by the inhabitants of Mejorada del Campo, is an unusual work of art, the product of a singular feat that demystifies the current omnipresence of technology. It is also a positive testimony that every person, even the least educated and capable, has a hidden talent that should be discovered and cultivated. Justo was aware of this: "God has given me a gift and I have to take advantage of it." If that talent coincides with an interest, a belief or a hobby, the person feels called (vocation) and motivated to do something in that direction. This is what Juan Ramón Jiménez called "el work gustoso". Justo's main motivation was faith together with hope. This testimony exposes the conformists and invites them not to live a monotonous, routine and sterile life. He challenges them to dare to let themselves be carried away by possible good follies, the same ones that the child, the genius and the saint usually have.