Church Hopping: Don Justo’s “Trash” Cathedral

Arts, Church Hopping, Featured, Visual Arts — By on April 4, 2011 at 6:00 am

Image via Wikipedia

Some call it an eyesore.  Some may even consider it heretical.  But Don Justo Gallego Martinez’s “garbage” cathedral attracts tourists to Mejorada del Campo, just as the world’s largest crucifix draws people to Indian River, Michigan.

Spain has a long history of mosaic art.  When we went Church Hopping to La Sagrada Família, in Barcelona, we encountered the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, who, as evidenced by his spectacular Park Güell, had a love for the mosaic tradition.  Don Justo kicks the principle of mosaic art—a “collage” of stones and glass, usually relegated to iconography and flooring—up a notch by reappropriating bits and pieces of random found and donated materials into an entire cathedral.

What’s remarkable is that the church is actually quite beautiful.  It doesn’t look like it was made out of junk.  All the little scraps that Don Justo collected, cleaned, and found purpose for unite to form a beautiful example of Romanesque architecture.

There’s symbolism there.

Christianity is made up of a diverse body of believers.  Like a broken bit of stone, we can be a little rough around the edges.  Like a piece of glass, we’re fragile.  Our lives are sometimes full of “garbage,” and we want cleansing and mending.  We gather together not because we are the same—often our personalities and beliefs are incongruous—but because we believe there is something greater than our individualism.  Through Jesus, we are made new.  We are made beautiful.

Church: Yet to be named

Location: Mejorada del Campo, near Madrid, Spain

Architect: Don Justo Gallego Martinez (September 20, 1925–)

Built: 1961-yet to be finished

Architectural style: Romanesque, Neoclassical

History: A former bullfighter, Don Justo Gallego Martinez joined a Trappist monastery and lived the life of a contemplative monk for eight years.  In 1961, however, he had to leave the monastery after contracting tuberculosis.  At that time, he decided to devote his energies to building a cathedral.  With no architectural experience and no formal design plans for the cathedral, he began building it—with whatever materials he could scrounge up.

The cathedral is constructed from found and donated materials.  Brick and construction companies provide leftovers from their own jobs.

Exterior design: Not only is Don Justo’s cathedral a hodgepodge of materials, it is also a mosaic of styles.

With massive walls and semi-circular arches, Don Justo’s cathedral is a modern-day example of Romanesque architecture.  Of course, the most famous Romanesque cathedral in Spain (Galicia, to be exact) is still the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

The dome of the church is reportedly modeled after the dome at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.  While St. Peter’s is recognized as Renaissance and Baroque design, the dome itself was modeled after the Pantheon, which is a Roman design.  Part of the cupola, the smaller dome, of Don Justto’s trash cathedral is made from plastic food tubs, according to the BBC.

The White House also inspired Don Justo’s design, according to multiple sources.  The White House is a blend of Palladian and Neoclassical design.  The narrow columns featured prominently in Don Justo’s cathedral hearken back to these design styles but they were actually moulded from old oil drums—you know, those 55-gallon, cylindrical barrels you sometimes see on the side of the road.

What all of the architecture styles that make up the cathedral have in common is a sense of balance.  The main body of the cathedral emphasizes order and harmony.

Interior design: Within the church are offices and a library.  There are also cloisters and a crypt.

Quote: “I do it for faith. That’s clear, no?”  Don Justo Gallego Martinez told the BBC.

Pop culture: NPR did an interview with Don Justo.

Photos: View stunning photos at Huffington Post and Citynoise.

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  • josh says:

    That’s really cool. I like the caption at Huffington Post, “While the building has neither plans nor permits, so far the City of Madrid has tolerated its existence.” (ALSO LIKE CHRISTIANITY? DISCUSS.)

  • It’s a reminder of how God builds the human-church. He collects one discarded person at a time and adds them to the church.

  • I love this column. Well done, Steph!

  • Leslie says:

    Definitely something to put on my list of things to see! Thanks!

  • Orlando Clemente says:

    Awesome Steph, I really love this piece!

  • julian nuñez de arenas blanco says:

    He leído en esta introducción, que justo antes de ir al convento JUSTO había sido “TORERO”, pero por DIOS no es verdad JUSTO nunca fué ni torero; ni siquiera aprendiz de tal cosa osea “MALETILLA” traducido para los no españoles aprendiz de torero dispuesto a saltar al ruedo en busca de una oportunidad para obtener la alternativa atravès de SALTAR A LA PLAZA de forma ilegal y atreverse a torear toros con solo la muleta su valor y conocimiento de la lidia. PUES BIEN ESTO DE RELACIONAR A JUSTO COMO TORERO ME PARECE DE LEYENDA NEGRA Y ES UNA GRAN MENTIRA COMO LA LEYENDA NEGRA ,,,,,JUSTO VA POR OTRO CAMINO Y SUS LEYENDAS SON BLANCAS Y ESTÁN ESCRITAS EN LOS MUROS DE SU CATEDRAL

  • Corrección justo ha declarado que de joven quiso ser torero y futbolista pero eso solo son ilusiones de pequeño yo no lo entroncaria en una parte de su vida donde ya se dirije hacia su apostolado definitivamente por lo que no deja de ser un sueño de juventud y nada más no saquemos de contexto lo que solo era un sueño de juventud…..que pasa tan rapito como esta….

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