Justo Gallego Martínez, now known simply as Don Justo, began building what has become his life's work in 1961. Stricken with tuberculosis, he was forced to leave the monastery where he was studying to become a monk, but Don Justo found a new channel for his devotion in the small village of Mejorada del Campo, outside Madrid. Using cast-offs and leftovers from nearby building sites and factories, the dedicated Don spent the last 50 years building a would-be cathedral nearly single-handedly, with no formal training. In fact, the Spanish Civil War interrupted his primary schooling, nevermind any advanced architectural or engineering practice, but that only makes his accomplishment more astonishing.
Using no formal plans, the monastic drop-out has constructed a monolith out of that mass of leftovers. Measuring 131 feet tall, the crowning dome, modeled after St. Peter's Basilica, was constructed with the help of Don Justo's nephews, but most of the rest of the work was done by the man himself, by hand, alone. Covering more than 10,000 square feet, the remarkable structure faces an uncertain future thanks to a lack of building permits and the Don's lack of engineering prowess. Thankfully for fans of wacky architecture, a structural engineer has lent his services to the project in the hopes of winning official approval. Even the former monk himself admits that it might take another 20 years to complete the cathedral, and the Catholic Church has yet to endorse the project, though the Don has bequeathed the building to a nearby diocese. But given the acclaim and wonder now heaped on the Watts Towers—the Southern California landmark constructed out of broken ceramic and cement by Italian immigrant Simon Rodia—perhaps it's just a matter of time before Don Justo's cathedral becomes a major tourist attraction in its own right.
Unconcerned and undeterred, Don Justo, now 85 years old, continues to scrounge for materials at four in the morning, and arrives dutifully on site by 6 a.m. each day. He has apparently limited his outdoor activity to the summer months, spending the rest of each year cleaning and finishing the interior. And who can blame him? It would take a leap of faith just to mount the stairs in this well-sculpted trash heap, nevermind haul bricks to the roof each day, every day, for 50 years.