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Spanish Cathedral Result of One Man's Work


Some 40 years ago a Spanish monk was forced to quit a Trappist monastery after he contracted tuberculosis. He turned his religious zeal to building a cathedral one brick at a time with leftover rubble from other buildings. At first, people thought he was crazy. Jerome Socolovsky went to visit the cathedral near Madrid.

JEROME SOCOLOVSKY: In a country peppered with castles and cathedrals, the bedroom community of Mejorada del Campo wouldn't exactly be a recommended place to visit.

(Soundbite of airplane)

SOCOLOVSKY: The town lies just under the final approach to Madrid's Barajas International Airport, but its unusual landmark, a cathedral that's still under construction, already brings visitors, like Deanna Bruno(ph) of Madrid.

Ms. DEANNA BRUNO (Madrid Resident): Well, it's amazing, absolutely amazing that only one man has been able to do all these things, especially thinking that he uses old material, not things that he gets from I don't know where.

SOCOLOVSKY: That man is 81-year-old Justo Gallego. Don Justo, as he's known, has devoted half his life to building his temple of faith. Now it has a dozen towers reaching to the heavens, or at least 130 feet. It looks a bit like a gigantic sand castle. The walls are made of unevenly laid bricks and the contours are a bit crude.

(Soundbite of welding)

SOCOLOVSKY: As he welds the frame of an arched window while perched on a balcony in the transept, Don Justo says he uses surplus materials donated by contractors.

Mr. DON JUSTO GALLEGO (Builder): (Soundbite of foreign language)

SOCOLOVSKY: I don't have much money, but what I have I give to the Lord. He gave me talent, he gave me an inheritance, so it's all for him, he said. Justo Gallego inherited half a million square feet of land, but he sold most of it to finance his dream. The cathedral occupies the remaining plots. Justo lives with his brother-in-law, Pablo Cantwell(ph).

Mr. GALLEGO: (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: It's mid-day, and Cantwell wants to know when Justo's coming over for lunch. Pablo Cantwell's wife cooks for her brother every day, as she's done for decades. Cantwell says his brother-in-law started the cathedral in a different Spain.

Mr. PABLO CANTWELL (Mr. Gallego's Brother-in-Law): (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: When Justo began, the man in charge was Francisco Franco, he says with a toothless grin. Cantwell claims, with pride, that the dictator approved of his brother-in-law's endeavor because churches has been burnt down by leftist anti-clerical forces during the Spanish Civil War.

Mr. CANTWELL: (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: When Franco died, things took a turn for the worst, the brother-in-law says. That was in the late '70s. The new local government said Justo Gallego needed a building permit for his cathedral, but that would have entailed a costly structural survey. Despite the bureaucratic problems, municipality spokeswoman Flora Souda(ph) says town hall appreciates what Don Justo's cathedral means for many people.

Ms. FLORA SOUDA (Municipality Spokeswoman: (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: There is such fervor and admiration that I don't know what would cause more problems, demolishing it or legalizing it, she said. But there is a ray of hope. A certified architect has offered Justo his services pro bono. Now all he needs are a few stained glass windows and the Lord's blessing, because soon he'll have to climb up his jerry-rigged scaffolding to make a dome roof. He says it will be modeled on the Sistine Chapel.

For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky in Mejorada del Campo, Spain. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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