don justo


“The cathedral is my wife,” answers Don Justo when people want to know whether he has a wife and children. You hardly can believe that a man of his age, 95 years now, so fragile and small, is building a cathedral with his own hands. He started in 1961 - almost 50 years - and since then you will find him 6 days a week, 12 hours a day working.


“Why?” is the next question that will arise in someone’s mind. Don Justo was born in 1925, the son of a farmworker in Mejorada del Campo, Madrid, Spain. Since childhood, he felt great devotion to God and to the Virgin Mary (Santa Maria del Pilar).  When he was 21, he decided to dedicate his life to God, worshipping in the monastery of Santa Maria de la Huerta. At 27, he contracted tuberculosis and almost died. He had to return to his hometown, where miraculously he survived. In gratitude and in honour of his favourite saint, the ‘Santa Maria del Pilar’ he began building a chapel on a small piece of land that his father had left him after his death. Since that day, Don Justo has never stopped building.

Personally, I do not understand how Don Justo manages to find the energy to keep on building. It was incredibly difficult in the beginning and still is, even though some things have positively changed.  At first, people thought he was crazy. Even the townhall did not grant a building permit so officially the cathedral remains an illegal building. He had no money, nobody to help him. He was alone. To me, it’s a miracle.


While I was working with him in the cathedral, I received his permission to interview and film him.  I asked him, “Don Justo, don’t you sometimes have moments of….” I wanted to say ‘doubt’ but he wouldn’t let me finish. “No, there is no ‘moment’,” he replied. “You have to follow the path directly and immediately. No excuses, no ‘buts’.”


His greatest concern is finding material for construction. He used to get up at 3 a.m. in the morning and walk 10 miles to find a factory to donate materials. Often, he received already used or devalued material; Don Justo would simply recycle it.  His ability to craft his own construction materials and to build without any architectual drawings amazes professionals.  They find him extraordinary and inventive. In this exhibition, you will find many illustrations of this man’s vision.


Don Justo is a poor man. He lives in a small room in his brother-in-law’s house near the cathedral. He owns a bible and a few clothes. When we had lunch together he ate a tomato and some old bread that he softened in a cup of water or coffee; he has few remaining teeth. He hardly takes time to eat, rushing back to work, because “man does not live by bread alone.”


Over the years, the cathedral grew to immense proportions (35m high, 50m long, and 25m wide, and 70m high towers). People became aware and started to show some interest. Now even tourists arrive in buses. Journalists, photographers, filmmakers are eager to share news. The whole world seems to be concerned -but is that really so?? I see Don Justo’s every day struggle to find enough money and material. I see a human being, sometimes so exhausted, yet still going on with an almost unearthly energy. A man working in cold, heat, rain, icy winds – I saw it with my own eyes and it touched my heart and soul deeply. I cannot find words, nor explain ‘why,’ ‘what,’ ‘how,’….  I only have the strong conviction that I have to help, to do something, to be another brick in the wall.




what don justo means to me



That’s what it takes to make a documentary about one of the ‘Last living Saints’ in Spain: Don Justo Gallego.



One night a good friend told me about Don Justo building his Cathedral of Faith all alone in Mejorad del Campo (Madrid, Spain).  I was completely in love at first sight. Couldn’t sleep that night. Full moon. My thoughts rushing by as fast as the clouds in the sky. In the morning my mind was clear: book a ticket and jump into the unknown. My documentary starts at this point - driving alone to the airport with just a small dv-camera in my hand.



“Fear is the mindkiller”; to get over the fear of the unknown provokes the power to proceed. To experience great things. Five days working with Don Justo in his cathedral and to have full permission to film his story is a miracle and a gift.



The expression, ‘The way is made by walking’ proves to be true. My project to help Don Justo continue building the cathedral takes a lot of time. While Don Justo’s cathedral is built brick by brick, I continue my documentary and support  step by step.



biography maria heidemann


Maria Heidemann’s passion for making films and fascination for Don Justo is the motivation for her movie and her Don Justo Support Project.  She combines her voluntary work for Don Justo with her work as a performer/filmmaker in the Netherlands. She worked 5 years as a television production-assis­tant/officemananger at independent Dutch tv-producers before she started her carreer as it is today. Maria Heidemann is native German, and she lives in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Spain feels like ‘home’ to her; she lived for a short period of time in Sevilla to work and  study Spanish;  she did photography in Andalucia  (South Spain). She goes to Spain frequentely to visit Don Justo, to film and to take pictures, as well as to spend some time her Spanish friends.