Many people are compelled to make things despite their informal (or complete lack of) training. In these cases, it’s often the result of an undeniable feeling of kismet or a vision they can’t ignore. Justo Gallego Martínez, aka Don Justo, is one of these extraordinary folks. At 91 years old, the former Trappist monk has spent the last 56 years constructing his own cathedral completely from scratch in Mejorada del Campo, Spain. This is despite the fact that he had no prior experience in architecture; rather, the cathedral is built on faith.
Don Justo’s unconventional life path began due to illness. In 1961, he contracted tuberculosis and had to leave the monastery, where he had been for the last eight years. After his departure, he began constructing the cathedral on land he inherited from his parents. In doing this, he made a promise that if he recovered from the tuberculosis, the cathedral would be in honor of Our Lady of the Pilar, to whom he prayed to during this time. Thus, the cathedral is known as Nuestra Señora del Pilar.
To begin the shrine, Don Justo first leveled the ground and mapped it out on site. There were no blueprints drawn, but rather, the structure is dictated by “opportunity and inspiration” and includes recycled materials and tools. Unconventional items are also a staple of Don Justo’s construction. Old gas drums, for instance, found a second life as building columns. They’ve help to form the series of dramatic spires and domes that all together, spreads over 24,000 square feet.
Although Don Justo is solidly a nonagenarian, he still actively works on Nuestra Señora del Pilar. Open to the public, you might just see him climbing scaffolding.