Justo Gallego has spent most of his 91 years building a cathedral in his town of Mejorada del Campo, near Madrid’s Barajas airport.
The problem is that nobody seems to want it.
“I do it out of faith; there is no other reason,” he says of the extraordinary structure he started in 1961 without any plans or sketches after failing in his ambition to become a priest. “It’s all in my head.”
Using recycled masonry and household rubbish items such as bottles, cans and old tyres, Mr Gallego has single-handedly built an extensive complex which includes a cloister and a cupola almost 40 metres high.
The construct combines artistic touches from frescoes and coloured-glass windows with rough edges where the fanatical nonagenarian’s vision remains unrealised.
There are no plans to complete the so-called “Cathedral of Faith”, nor guarantee that it will be maintained after Mr Gallego, who is suffering from ill health, passes away.
Mr Gallego puts this down to an absence of funding beyond private donations.
But the town council says it has no money to spend on a construction that has no legal permit and could be unsafe.
“We cannot spend the people’s money on a private construction when we are having to close public buildings due to a lack of funding. Like many other municipalities around Spain, the crisis and the lack of building projects started in recent years has starved us of funds,” says the local planning chief, Encarnación Martín.
Ms Martín acknowledges that Mr Gallego’s construction is “emblematic”, and says the town has asked for assistance in making the building legal and safe. But, she adds, the Spanish government, Madrid’s regional authorities and Spain’s College of Architects have all refused to get involved.
“We don’t have the technical wherewithal to provide a solution. Is the building stable? Is it safe? We have no way of knowing.”
If experts did finally turn up and declare the building unsafe, Ms Martín accepts that it would have to be demolished. “As public servants, we are here to apply the rules.”
A spokesperson for Mejorada del Campo council says that the Church has also turned a cold shoulder to the project, replying in the past that it already has “enough places of worship” in the area. The Cathedral of Faith has not been consecrated, although Mr Gallego says he has held Christian ceremonies on the site.
Mr Gallego’s most loyal follower, Ángel López, says that Mr Gallego is resigned to dying without knowing the fate that will befall his life’s work. “All he says about it is that it's in God's hands.”
Mr Gallego says he has written a will leaving his creation to the Bishopric of Alcalá de Henares, responsible for churches in the area around Mejorada del Campo.
According to a spokesman, the bishopric is not aware of this plan nor of any attempt at any time by Mr Gallego to seek assistance or advice from the Church. “It’s an amazing effort this man is making, but we at the moment have two churches in Mejorada that cover the needs of the Church. It is up to civil institutions to ensure that the building is technically sound.”
Mr Gallego says he decided to devote his life to the Church after seeing attacks against religious institutions in the town by “communists” around the time that Spain’s civil war broke out in 1936. “With the profanation I saw, I would build the cathedral out of gold if I could.”
He says he was expelled from a monastery where he was training to become a priest after contracting tuberculosis and being considered a health risk.
Bit by bit he has sold off all of the farmland and property he inherited from his father to pay for his monumental work of devotion.
He now lives in the unheated and open space that is his cathedral, tended to by Mr López, his wife and their two children.
“He won’t go to the doctor. He is old, that’s what’s wrong with him. We have dug his grave in the crypt,” says Mr López.
The authorities may not be knocking on Mr Gallego’s door, but there is a constant trickle of tourists at the site.
A TripAdvisor “Catedral de Justo Gallego” site has 111 comments.
Mr Gallego says he does not have much time for visitors who come to “gawp and flatter me” but do not help him.
A self-avowed virgin, Mr Gallego regularly admonishes women for entering without being fully covered.
“It’s true that the cathedral has made us famous all over the world,” says Ms Martín from Mejorada del Campo’s town council.
“We want to resolve all of the planning problems that come with it, but no one is prepared to lend a hand.”