One Man’s Dream, Another Man’s Rubbish Dump: The Fascinating Cathedral in Mejorada Del Campo

So I heard about a pretty amazing Cathedral the other day, Catedral de Justo, or the Cathedral of Justo Gallego, and I just had to check it out.

Mejorada Del Campo

The town of Mejorada Del Campo is about 20kms east of the centre of Madrid. The town itself is pretty unremarkable, a functional commuter residence for many who work in Madrid, however, it’s not the place that I want to write about, but about the unique Cathedral.

Mejorada Del Campo is the home of the amazing Justo Gallego. Born in 1925 Mr Gallego has a deep-rooted Christian faith and passion that has seen him dedicate himself to his creator. At the age of 27, he entered the monastery of Santa Maria De La Huerta in the Spanish region of Soria. However, after just eight years Mr Gallego was forced to return to his hometown of Mejorada after a severe case of tuberculosis.  It was upon his return that he decided to devote the rest of his life to building a Cathedral in the name of Christ.

Having been told the story before I had laid eyes on the Cathedral, I was unsure if a. I believed what I had been told and b. What the hell it would look like.

As we pulled off the motorway, my eyes were darting around in anticipation, but I could see no evidence of the building and realised I should probably temper my expectations. I thought one man’s Cathedral could be another man’s house with a cross stuck on the roof so I went back to checking Facebook on my phone. After a couple more turns I was feeling a little queazy, classic symptom of too much phone use in a car, when suddenly it came into view and what happened next can only be explained as a mind grenade. What the man has achieved is nothing short of a miracle in itself. If he is to be believed in his interviews (and I have no reason not to) almost all the work has been done by himself over a 50 year period, when you see it beggars belief. Justo Gallego is now over 90 years old, and he still continues.

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My first thought was “How in the hell did he get planning permission for that?” The answer is he didn’t, but the council does not do anything because . . . well . . . Why would they? It’s awesome! In fact, although they are not officially supporting the project, they have renamed the street adjacent to the building Calle Antonio Gaudi. My next thought was poor neighbours. Could you imagine how the conversation went?

You’re just getting ready to head out, and there’s a knock at your door . . .

“Hi, I’m your new neighbour.”

“Hello, great to meet you, so what do you plan to do with the place?”

“Uhhh, I think I’m gonna build a Cathedral.”

“Nice, good luck with that, let me know if you need anything.”

Voice comes from upstairs

“Honey who was that at the door?”

“Our new madman neighbour, I think he’s lost it, says he’s gonna build a Cathedral next door.”

The Cathedral of Justo Gallego Martínez

Anyway, I digress. The first thing that struck me was the size of it, you’re not talking small village church here, this is a full-blown, four story high Cathedral. As you’d expect it’s still far from finished and shall we say somewhat post-apocalyptic MadMax looking, but it’s most definitely a cathedral.

The red steps of the cathedralAs I approached, the reddish brown colour of the concrete steps gave the site a welcoming warm glow – not that Madrid in September needs any help with the heat. Peering through the metal gates at the top I could see down into the basement; it was packed with building supplies. Bags of cement, bricks, guttering and more. All the materials that I was looking at have been collected and donated over the years from surplus supplies left over from building projects in the city.

We made our way along the side of the Cathedral where we reached the main door. The archway stands at about three metres high made with what I can only describe as moulded concrete, far from pretty, but then pretty isn’t what this place is about, it’s about one man’s devotion to God and the lengths that he has gone to.   As we entered the main chamber, there’s no hiding it; it looked just as it is, work very much in progress. Behind you, as you enter is a sign (in English and Spanish) explaining that it is a live building site and you enter at your own risk. I only actually saw this on the way out, but I kind of guessed that would be the situation. There is a small desk alongside the far wall where a lady sells lottery tickets, calendars and other small souvenirs to help fund the project as well as an opportunity to leave a donation. The suggestion is €2, but feel free to give more.

Here’s just a snippet of what we discovered …

The Cathedral bricks
It’s very much a ‘rustic’ look
Here you can see how plastic drainpipe is formed into pillars.
Here you can see how plastic drainpipe is formed into pillars.

The Cathedral is made of fully recycled materials

The Cathedral is close to the airport so plane spotters will be happy too!
The Cathedral is close to the airport so plane spotters will be happy too!
Isn't quite the quality of stained glass work you may be used to seeing but it has charm.
Isn’t quite the quality of stained glass work you may be used to seeing but it has charm.
VIP room?
VIP room?
As you can see, it's freakin' huge!
As you can see, it’s freakin’ huge!

The cathedral of Mejorada Del Campo

Inside the cathedral

I enjoyed this place, unlike anything I have been to before and being given the freedom to roam made it extra special. We were lucky enough to see the man himself. He was in a private area so sadly we couldn’t talk to him but we got to see him work and peek into his office complete with religious icons and images of The Virgin. You would not guess he is over 90 years old It saddens me to think (saving a miracle) that Mr Gallego won’t be around to see it finished and when he does pass on, I’ll be interested to see what happens to the building. Hopefully, they’ll take the same approach as the Sagrada Famillia in Barcelona and do what they can to finish the project as close to the original designs as possible.

Getting to the Cathedral

Concerning getting to Mejorada Del Campo, I was lucky that I was able to get my partner to drive, but if you don’t have that luxury, there is a bus stop located just across the road from the Cathedral, line number 282 will take you directly there. You can check out the timetable here – http://www.etasa.es/lineas7/madrid-avda-america–mejorada.html.

To finish this blog, I’ll leave the final word to the man himself. This excerpt is taken from this website The Madman and the Cathedral where you can find a lot more information about the man and his devotion.

“It has been almost fifty years since I devoted myself to building this cathedral and I still get up at three thirty in the morning to start my day. With the exception from time to time of assistants, I have done it all by myself, mostly using recycled building materials… and there is not set date for the end of this work. I content myself everyday offering to the Almighty the work He wishes me to do and it makes me happy to think of what I have already accomplished. And I will continue, till the end of my days, to keep working on the cathedral with my resources and donations from other.”

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Watch the video:

El Loco de la Catedral (The Madman and the Cathedral) from James Rogan on Vimeo.

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36 Replies to “One Man’s Dream, Another Man’s Rubbish Dump: The Fascinating Cathedral in Mejorada Del Campo”

  1. As a landscape architect, buildings and design always got my special interest. For example, I love Gaudi stuff. I might have to make a journey to check out this cathedral and learn more about Gallego, but so far I still don’t get the concept and the design.
    Keep up with your blog!

    1. Hey! Gaudi is amazing and I love it. What makes this guy different is he is doing it all with donations so rather than creating a design and getting what he needs to build it he looks at what he has and asks how do I build this with that. It really is a unique perspective and incredibly creative. Although it didn’t feel like the safest place to be! Well worth a trip.

  2. Haha, I loved your little joke about the neighbor at the door. Wow, that’s very ambitious to try and DIY your own cathedral! What a fun place to take photos though, it is a photographer’s playground!

  3. I saw an documentary about it on TV once and completely forgot about this place! Thank you for sharing 🙂 I think it’s absolutely amazing; not only the fact that a man just decides to build a freaking cathedral (i mean,.. seriously!) but that he actually has the passion, the dedication and the patience to do it, for years as a life long project.. I hope someone will carry on his work once he’s gone … it would be a shame if not! (i find it pretty awesome though that you’ve seem him..imagine in 100 years or 1000 years; it could be one of the world heritages!)

    1. My girlfriend told me about it, well worth visiting if ever you get the chance, really close to Madrid. I also wonder what happens when he passes away, if it is protected, I guess we’ll wait and see, hopefully work continues the way he’d have wished.

  4. As a Spaniard I had heard of this cathedral, although I’ve never been there, I know it is impressive and crazy-looking. What strikes me the most is his dream to built something for something he believes in and that is the power of will, if only we had one as strong as he does.

  5. Wow what a beautiful cathedral. I love how its not your typical cathedral you would visit. Best part about traveling is finding all these hidden gems around the world!

  6. That’s awesome, thanks so much for sharing. I hadn’t heard about this place when I visited Spain so didn’t get a chance to visit…maybe next time I’m in Spain 🙂 Thanks for posting such an inspirational topic and I love the way you wrote it and your bits of humour 🙂

  7. I’m not a religious person, but it’s very touching how this man’s faith drives him to build this cathedral. As you said, it might not be the most beautiful one but all the heart he’s putting into it makes it an incredible place. Also you cracked me up with your neighbourly dialogue !!!!!

    1. Much the same for me, I’m not really a religious person and I often get upset at how much wealth/gold you find inside Cathedrals while people are begging by the door. However this is something different entirely, one man’s passion for his beliefs, this is something I can believe in. I’m happy I made you giggle, make person I’ve never met laugh a day and I’m happy!

  8. What an interesting place and story… I had never heard of it until. The Cathedral looks rustic for sure. I believe that behind any old and unique building there is probably a madman that designed it. Of course now he will become famous because of all the tourists coming to see it

  9. This is a really cool offbeat location. I don’t want to be a spoil sport, but is he qualified to build a safe structure? I mean if I come to visit, I want to know if the place has been constructed well and inspected and so on, since it was basically homemade.

    1. From what I understand, he is a qualified architect, whether that means it’s safe I have no idea. Walking around felt safe enough, but I wouldn’t want to live there!

  10. Haha, I love how he didn’t get planning permission, that couldn’t happen in England. The council would make him demolish it. I love the quirky nature of the cathedral.

  11. What a crazy project! It looks incredible. I kind of like the dome unfinished. I’m not a religious person, but I love this man’s dedication.

  12. Good joke! It’s weird to think that he didn’t need building permission. The place look awesome 🙂 Love your photos and this post!

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