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For the past 58 years, a now 93-year-old former monk has been building his magnum opus, a cathedral in Madrid, Spain. Justo Gallego has had no formal architecture training, created no formal plans for the church, and, for the most part, has no building permits from the city. But Gallego keeps building, for only God can stop him.
Born in a farming family, Gallego was raised in a Roman Catholic family. After his education was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, Gallego chose to join a Trappist monastery, which he left only when he contracted tuberculosis. After returning home, he began to build a cathedral on some inherited land. He made a vow that if he ever recovered from his tuberculosis, he would construct a shrine to Our Lady of the Pillar.
Over time, the cathedral has grown to include a parish hall, cloisters, baptistry, dome, crypt and stairway, among other things. Gallego sold all of his possessions, including his home, to focus on building the cathedral. Most of his building materials come recycled from other construction sites and a nearby brick factory. While he has done the bulk of the building by himself, he has gotten a little help along the way from his nephews and local volunteers. But no matter what, the cathedral is a still a work of Gallego’s mind.
Even though Gallego has been working on the structure for over five decades, he’s very aware that it is nowhere near completion. But Gallego says he isn’t worried, as he hopes it can be completed by others once he dies. He hopes to be buried in the cathedral—a monument to his life’s work.
While some residents of the surrounding area find the cathedral to be an eyesore and tacky, others see it as a welcoming tourist attraction and the manifestation of one man’s incredible passion and faith. But for now, Gallego will continue to build up his cathedral every day, slowly creating more and more.
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