A Single Man Spent 53 Years Building This Massive CathedralS

Very few of us will work at a single job our whole lives. Even fewer will work on a single, self-led project our whole lives. Spanish octogenarian Justo Gallego Martinez is an exception: He's been the sole designer, engineer, and construction worker on a cathedral in Madrid since 1961.

We first wrote about Don Justo three years ago, after a Spanish advertisement and a subsequent NPR article about his 24,000 square foot cathedral broadcast its existence to the world outside of Spain. He has no architectural training, and his building is made from salvaged materials—including bricks donated from a local factory, oil drums, and other scraps.

Some critics argue that his creation should be torn down, while others claim it's a monument (local architects have even volunteered consultant for free).

A Single Man Spent 53 Years Building This Massive CathedralS

A Single Man Spent 53 Years Building This Massive CathedralS

Today, Getty Images photographer Denis Doyle published a series of new photos on Don Justo's church, showing the progress that he has made in the years that have passed since then. These days, it seems work is going more slowly: Not only does he now work inside in the winter, he's on the verge of 90—well past the ideal age for tough manual labor.

A Single Man Spent 53 Years Building This Massive CathedralS

A Single Man Spent 53 Years Building This Massive CathedralS

Don Justo himself, now 88, is bequeathing it to the church when he dies—and hopes that it could eventually host church services, though, as the bare dome and unfinished interiors can attest, there's still a good decade of work to be done on the project. But does he even want to finish the building?

James Rogan, the director of The Madman and the Cathedral, a recent documentary about the project, thinks there's something more complex at stake here:

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.

Antoni Gaudi, another Spanish architect, springs to mind: A huge section of his career was devoted to designing and building the ever-changing Sagrada Familia, a church that remains unfinished to this day, too.

A Single Man Spent 53 Years Building This Massive CathedralS

A Single Man Spent 53 Years Building This Massive CathedralS

Though the frenzy over Don Justo's work depicts him as a madman, a "non" architect who builds with "trash," that's a sensational take on the truth. The history of outsider architects—a term for designers who work outside of traditional professional oversight—shows us that even humans without a license or degree are capable of creating beautiful, useful architecture. [Getty Images]

A Single Man Spent 53 Years Building This Massive CathedralS