“My name is Justo Gallego. I was born in Mejorada del Campo on September 20, 1925. When I was very young, I had a deep Christian faith and I wanted to devote myself to the Creator. For this reason, when I was 27 I entered the monastery of Santa Maria de la Huerta in the province of Soria. After eight years, I fell ill with tuberculosis and I was forced to leave the community for fear I might contaminate the others.
I came back to Mejorada devastated by this setback to my first attempt at a spiritual life. So I decided to build, on farmland belonging to my family, an offering to God. Little by little, the building was erected, spending my family inheritance to keep it going. There were never any construction plans or official permission. Everything is in my head. I am not an architect or a stonemason. I have never had any training in the building profession. My basic education was interrupted by the Civil War. I was inspired by books about cathedrals, castles and other religious buildings and they gave birth to my own work. But my principle source of illumination and inspiration has always been the Word of Christ. It is He who guides me and it is to Him that I offer my work, in gratitude for the life he has given me and in penitence for those who have not followed his path.
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.
Everything that is made in the name of God helps us to admire his reflected and eternal glory.”
Justo Gallego Martinez.
This film came about after a research trip to Madrid when I was writing a film set in Spain about a small community that was losing its faith. Laura Rodriguez (the producer) took me to Justo's cathedral in Mejorada del Campo and I realised I had stumbled across a documentary project that reflected many of the questions I was addressing in my feature. I went back with a camera and started making this documentary about faith, a character study of the remarkable and multi-faceted man, Justo Gallego Martinez, who has spent his lifetime building a cathedral.
Justo says his only concern is to finish the cathedral, yet at every turn he has made it impossible for himself to finish it: everything has been started; nothing has been finished. But if the cathedral were ever completed what would he do? He seems to have absorbed the Romantic ideal of the fragment: unfinished works that are historical ruins before they are even finished.
Justo, in this world, is a dinosaur building a colossal monument to a god long since given up for dead. Nevertheless, his achievement is nothing short of miraculous. I am fascinated by the paradox of his character - whether he is madman or martyr? On the one hand, it has been an enterprise of total self-indulgence, on the other, total self-negation. To work with, especially for his helpers, he can be difficult, angry and harsh. His serene contentment in his work can switch to searing fury if anybody gets in the way of his project. But his determination is necessary precisely because he is a man who has succeeded in living outside of society pursuing an eccentric dream. His unswerving faith has enabled him to carry out a super-human task, revealing the raw power of religion in the hands of an exceptional individual.
The story of Justo and his cathedral in its own quiet way poses tough questions about how we live now and why. Justo gave up his life to build something that will surprise and awe generations to come. His dedication and achievement has the power to overwhelm people of any faith or no faith at all. I hope this film is small reflection of the humbling experience of seeing the cathedral in real life.
James Rogan, Director
I went to see Justo’s cathedral for the first time in Spring, 2001. My niece Izara was studying History of Art in Madrid and told me that the professor, Juan Antonio Ramirez, had spoken about a man who was building a cathedral not far from Madrid. The professor was writing a book and was including Justo as an example of a new breed of artists who combined sculpture with architecture using recycled materials.
The next day I was shooting a report nearby and we finished early. So I decided to pass by the cathedral with the cameraman. I only remember the impact it had on us: We were blown away.
Inside there was a skinny old man in a dirty blue overcoat and a red scarf and cap. It was Justo. He was on his own and he smiled at us. We watched him as he worked: he was sweeping dust with an ancient broom from one side of the cathedral to the other. In the enormous space, there were piles of plastic buckets, wires and bits of iron, deformed bricks, things that you find in skips, one might even say, rubbish. The place was covered in pigeon droppings and the birds themselves whirled beneath the impressive dome. It was hard to tell whether it was a ruin or something in construction. A pair of storks rested in a nest on the tallest tower made from broken, warped bricks, overcooked in the kiln and so useless to builders but much more resistant than the normal bricks used in construction. Iron, concrete, chaos.
That time we did not speak, Justo and I. But the impression he had made on me was such that I continued to visit to try to understand him and his way of building. I took my friends and I took him books about the martyrs and saints that fascinated him so much, and sunflower seeds and sweets (the only thing he seemed to eat). He would speak and I listened, overwhelmed by an individual that I, someone who had devoted a large part of my life to studying the rationalism of the enlightenment, wished at first to understand and later simply to listen to.
The many hours I have spent with Justo have been quite simply a unique experience: Justo is unlike anybody I have ever met. He is one of a kind.
When in 2005 he appeared on television in the advert for Aquarius, Justo became a celebrity overnight. I had not seen the advert when I went one Saturday and I found the cathedral, which had always been empty, full of people of all ages, with cameras, mobile phones and noise, overwhelming a confused Justo with his sudden fame. He was at first delighted by the attention, but quickly angered by the intrusion. He shut himself away.
That is where our documentary started. I called James and told him if he wanted to make a film about Justo he had better come back to Madrid immediately with a camera. And so he did and we began to film.
5 years have passed and we have had many adventures following Justo and his cathedral, but I am proud to say that Justo gave us his confidence because James wanted to make a film about a man living outside of the norm, intelligent in his simplicity, complex and from another era, the kind of Christian that would have fascinated Bunuel.
I still keep going, taking him his favourite sweets, listening to him, watching him work as if it were the last second of his life, always hanging from a scaffold in a perilous position, with his improvised tools, or climbing across his vertigo-inducing domes, happy and frantic, his blue eyes piercing through all and sundry, without being able to believe still that what I am seeing is not a surrealist hallucination.
What a lesson he is giving us on how to live, this Justo, the madman of the cathedral!
Laura Rodriguez, Producer.