One Man Spends 53 Years And Builds A Cathedral

Is it a hack? We think it’s definitely a hack. It’s just a hack that’s so grand and audacious it’s hard to even think of it as a hack. [Don Justo Martinez] single-handedly (aside from the help of an occasional nephew, which doesn’t count) built a Cathedral over 53 years in Madrid Spain.

Born in 1925, [Don Justo] found himself dying of tuberculosis soon after leaving a life of farming and becoming a Benedictine monk. He became so ill he was forced to leave his order and prayed for healing. He promised that he would erect a church in the name of the Lady of the Pillar if he lived.

He lived, and he built. He built out of whatever he could find. The broken bricks from the local factory became his cut stone. Discarded glass and metal all went into the work. The column forms are old oil drums. As Linus Torvalds said of the Linux project, (paraphrase) “Start to build it and they will come.” Once people saw the madman work, they began to donate materials to the Cathedral.

An untold number of very difficult man hours has gone into the structure. It makes the complaining  in the comments about the 100 hours spent on St. Optimus of Prime look as petty as it was.  It makes most arguments about time spent look silly. It’s labor and dedication on a scale that just isn’t often seen in any age.

In the tradition of cathedrals, [Don Justo] is likely to pass away before his church is finished. His only request is that he be the first to be placed in its crypts. His great hope is that others will continue the work after him. If you’d like to know more and see some pictures there is a website with more information.

67 thoughts on “One Man Spends 53 Years And Builds A Cathedral

  1. Been there and was impressed there were heavy construction vehicles parked on the main hall floor (crypt’s ceiling) and it wasn’t collapsing, having been built with no plans or construction expertise.

    1. Something built over such a long timespan has to be built in such small parts that you can’t complete a structure like a vault ceiling if it’s not over-engineered to be freestanding. That means the pillars are close together and the spans are short enough to not need much stability in vaulting.

      1. That guy didn’t have the skills do medical research, instead he honored his God, his faith, and his community by pouring himself into a building project that would likely have been nearly impossible for anyone else to do. In doing so, he created something amazing that people all over the world, regardless of their faith, can admire and appreciate.
        That doesn’t sound like a “waste of energy” to me.

        1. The inspirational aspect aside – building a catherdal is one of the most unproductive feelgood things you could do with your life as a repayment for a cure.

          Even if God was really behind it, I’m pretty certain he would rather have the guy build an orphanage or a sanitarium for other turberculosis victims rather than a church, which is a great indication that it wasn’t an act of God – unless God is incredibly vain.

          1. Of course the standard reply is “God works in mysterious ways” – which of course is a cop-out.

            What really happened is, a meme of religion ingrained in the person’s head happened to land on fertile ground by chance and resulted in a project whose design and purpose is to propagate and strenghten the same religion. A “miracle” if you will, that tells people “look at the power of God”. It’s fundamentally not very different from a preacher on a street corner, or mormons knocking on your door – just more impressive.

            Even if we argue it’s inspirational to people, it was really and fundamentally done for the preservation and propagation of the catholic faith and christianity in general, which are not a force of good in this world, rather a source and cause of ignorance and misery for billions.

          2. “Great, you read Dawkins. Want a pat on the back or something?”

            Never opened a book of his. It’s just not very difficult to reach the same conclusions by rational means.

          3. “Want a pat on the back or something?”

            And I could ask you the same.

            Marveling on the accomplishments of a person under the influence of an invasive religion, on the purpose of propagating that religion, is like saying “Look at that malaria mosquitoe – doesn’t it fly beautifully, isn’t it just a marvel of evolution?”

            Perhaps, but you’d still rather it not exist.

          4. Religion aside, you simply must admire one man’s dedication to an extraordinary goal. Today, too many people sink in the hole of apps or the Internet or technology to numb their personal misery or publicly humiliate others to hide their own inadequacies and make themselves feel a bit under the cover of anonymity. Shame.

          5. Building a cathedral is important and we should build more. An iphone is about the most uninspiring pile of shit I can think of and it took the same effort. I’ve been walking in and out of cathedrals in Paris for the past week and I can tell ya, they alone are so magnificent they cause spiritual growth (or like abstract weebly wobbly mental good brain patterns or whatever pedantics want to call becoming a better person). They’re the kind of building that make someone realize they can take up their dream and become a medical researcher. They’re the kind of building that resonate with your soul and tell you the nearly anything is possible if you’re dedicated.
            I mean, we build so many wasteful buildings these days. Carting off the topsoil to the dump for a piece of litter that will barely last a hundred years before needing to be rebuilt. We don’t think of the future. If you don’t want to build a cathedral then build a great museum or a great public monument instead.

        1. Open minds are useful for evaluating the opportunity costs of labor effort to build shrines to gods that probably do not exist. I think you are confused , it’s those that can’t take constructive criticism that have the door closed on their thinking. The idea that religiosity is not open to the same debates as is any other topic we may disagree upon, eg the validity of a certain project as a hack, is the only closed minded attitude I see here.

          I’m glad you are impressed by French cathedrals, I find them to be marginal works compared to many pagan and bhuddist construction endeavors, and I am many times more impressed with social work or medical research.

          1. French cathedrals come from an era when the catholic church and the state were inseparable, and you could literally hang for disagreeing with the priests about what the bible says. They’re first and foremost structures of political power – a statement of the power and authority of God invested in the establishment that can build these grand structures – the might of the right – which is what essentially is the basis for the modern left-right separation in politics as established later during the French revolution.

            From the absolute authoritarianism of the church and king evolved modern facism and other far-right movements which all harken back to simpler times when there were right people and wrong people, and the right people could take what they want because they are chosen by God and justified by birthright. It goes all the way back to the first centuries with Augustine of Hippo who excused the fall of Rome’s by claiming that it was the Christians who were responsible for the prosperity of Rome in the first place, because the world is at constant war between the City of Man and the City of God, and the peoples and nations rise and fall as they become aligned or mis-aligned with God. In other words, according to Augustine, Rome fell because they didn’t let the Christians turn it into an absolute theocracy.

            Along the way to the present, God simply got supplanted with racial and cultural superiority, nationalism, manifest destiny and leader cults. That is why, if you go by the history of what the cathedrals are and what they actually represent then and now, you really don’t want them around. They’re a vestige of an intellectual and political tyranny that still resonates with the sort of people you don’t prefer to have around.

          2. You can compare and contrast St. Augustine’s ideas in the City of God – which is btw. still offical catholic doctrine – to how. eg. Hitler treated the idea of the Aryan Race (Mein Kampf, 164-5).

            Where the Catholic Christians saw nations rise and fall according to their alignment with God, Hitler replaced God with the Aryan Race and claimed any progress in social conditions or technology and culture has come absolutely and solely from being occupied or influenced by the superior race. It’s the exact same idea: you simply replace “God” with “Germans” and the Great Commission with subjugating all other peoples under Aryan rule, and you got Nazism in a nutshell: inspired by the Catholic church, modelled after the medieval theocratical kingdoms, and put into practice by people with a hatred for democracy and a fantastical nostalgia over the “good old days” when being on the right side of history would grant you great living standards and screw the rest.

            How that relates to French cathedrals – besides the cultural, historical and ideological links from catholicism to nazism – is the fact that the nazis too started building cathedrals and castles as props for their thousand year reich – for the fake history of the Aryans.

            And it’s not a very great leap of imagination even today to make between cathedrals and right wing nutters of all sorts. Conservatives tend to be catholic because they both argue for a kind of moral realism where some things – some kinds of people, actions, modes of economy etc. – are simply right and anything else is wrong. No further justification needed. Cathedrals for a whole lot of people are monuments and sanctuaries for that kind of thinking.

      2. “Well it certainly is a huge waste of energy that could have been spent better, e.g. finding cures for tuberculosis.”

        Unlike, say, video games, sports, or spending ungodly amounts of money keeping up with the Jones? Personally, I prefer to look at it as someone who said that he would do something, then did it, no matter what the cost; an extreme rarity in this day and age. It will inspire others to do the same for a long time to come.

    1. Looking at the first paragraph of the linked wiki page: “Active tuberculosis can be contagious while latent tuberculosis is not, and it is therefore not possible to get TB from someone with latent tuberculosis.”

      I’m not a doctor, medical or otherwise, but if your assumption of latent tuberculosis is accurate, then the answer would apparently be none.

      1. Because these faiths kill, and generally produce human misery by being backwards and irrational while commanding huge political influence over vast swathes of people.

        If you think muslim terrorism is scary, think about what power the Pope wields upon a billion catholics.

        1. I don’t see the need to clog up the comments with the same idea rephrased repeatedly. We get it, you think Christianity is bad.

          To be fair, there are an awful lot of hospitals, missions, food and clothing drives, and so on that these people operate. They do an awful lot of good for poor people.

          1. And they would do better to not push Jesus on the side. Religion doesn’t have a monopoly on charity, so being “fair” to christians by noting their blatant self-promotion and self-glorification is like noting that the mafia offers pretty good deals on fire insurance. There are strings attached that need not and should not be.

            Especially missions and missionaries have done untold damage in the developing world (e.g. Belgian missionaries in Congo), and continue to do so to this very day with Catholics spreading anti-science, anti-family-planning, anti condom, anti-gay, and pro-circumcision propaganda in Africa.

            Remember the earthquake in Haiti, and how Christian missionaries were literally parachuting in to “save souls” while the crisis was going on? Most of the “charities” are nothing but preying on the weak.


            Alan Watts said once “I can perfectly well imagine what menace a plaque of saints would be”. Of course the Christians themselves believe they’re not malicious, instead doing the people a great service by spreading their ignorance and irrationality – much like how medieval Christians thought burning witches was doing them a service by saving their souls. Rather you burn for a bit now than burn forever in hell, right?

          1. Actually, everyone’s born ignorant because they’ve yet to understand what religions are even talking about.

            Some then assume they know what the hell it’s about and become atheists or theists. Both are making the error of talking about something so poorly defined that it’s completely meaningless, and so getting caught up in a debate where both parties are talking nonsense past each other.

          2. Point being, if you ask a small child who hasn’t been indoctrinated by their parents or society, about the existence of God, they will ask you back “What’s God?”

            The problem for the Atheist then is explaining God to the child in a way that makes God plausible but non-existent – because if they define God in a way that is impossible from the premise, they’ve simply made a strawman argument by defining themselves right. Same thing in reverse for the Theist.

            In reality there is no commonly accepted and meaningful definition of God between the Atheist and the Theist, so there’s nothing to talk about. When one asks the question and the other answer it, whatever the answer, it is not relevant to the question because they’re not talking about the same thing.

    1. Well we seem to have an innate urge to seek either glory for ourselves or something to honor for its glory, and the sad truth is that humans aren’t all that glorious. The fictional sky being is conveniently free of our obvious faults.

      1. Deities are also a convenient source of moral licensing.

        It’s the effect where people compensate bad deeds with good deeds and vice versa, and hold themselves in higher regard when they consider they’ve been good enough.

        Religious worship fills this void for good deeds so that a person can be an asshole without breaking the illusion because they’re doing the rituals of religion that are considered good, like praying for other people or giving money to the church. Back in history, the catholic church even used to sell little slips of paper, or “indulgences” to relieve them of their sins.

      1. Is that a trick question?

        Because all great works of art, literature and architecture built for God are essentially built to nothing.

        If you want to dispute that claim, please start by explaining what exactly, how exactly, where exactly and how we might prove this “God” thing. In the lack of such, we just have to conclude that the concept is empty and meaningless – a nothing.

          1. Tell me then, what exactly do you believe in when you believe in God?

            What is this “belief” when you in reality do not know the object of said belief? Indeed, it doesn’t exist. The great monuments like cathedrals aren’t really built for the sake of faith in anything, but for the sake and for show of authority of the church.

            So, comparing apples to apples, a cathedral in France was fundamentally and functionally equivalent to the 50 meter tall statue of Stalin in Prague.

            The only legitimate monuments to nothing – and this requires a bit of understanding about the philosophy – are the giant Buddha statues of Japan and China, some in Afghanistan etc. and even those were built really to show off various regimes’ power. When Bodhidharma was asked what merit there was in building such statues, he said “no merit whatsoever”.

  2. The guy has no permissions neither to build it nor to give his construction any public use. Because of the extraordinary nature of the project and the many citizens that support him, the town officials just let him do, but it is widely accepted that the future of the construction is pretty dark because of a myriad of legal issues. More info in spanish wikipedia “”.

    1. So as someone who went to Coral castle, I”ll say this guy’s cathedral is way way cooler.
      Don’t pay what they are asking to enter that place, it really isn’t worth it.

  3. An interesting interaction in the above comments. While I am , myself an atheist, I do not make it a habit of going around overtly trying to destroy other peoples faith. If they wish to have that sort of conversation with me, I will politely stand my ground with logic and science, which generally leaves people questioning their if done correctly. Religion and faith in a supreme being can have negative and positive consequences for people and society just like any other institution or occupation, like science.

    1. All it takes for evil to triumph is for the good men to do nothing.

      Very few theistic people are in for having a “conversation” with you, rather than to make a conversion out of you, because the whole point of theism is political and intellectual hegemony by appealing to a higher power that conveniently justifies and validates the believer.

      1. Their attempt at conversion generally entails a conversation, which means I am in control of one half of the communication and generally they get more than they expected.

  4. The original poster asks “Is it a hack?”. He states it is, and so do I. There is a lesson to learn here. Justo is admirable because he’s achieved on his own something everyone thought out of his reach, thanks to unconventional thinking, effort and long term perspective. But the lack of documentation and the use of materials and techniques out of the ordinary will at the same time turn it into a futile effort because of the inability to legalise it. Which makes us hackers even prouder. The original poster asks “Can he be the saint of hackers?”. Definitely yes.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.