Church Hopping: Don Justo’s “Trash” CathedralArts, Church Hopping, Featured, Visual Arts — By Stephanie Nikolopoulos on April 4, 2011 at 6:00 am
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.