Bizarre Encounters with the Makings of a Spanish Cathedral

We bid adieu to John's family in Madrid, leaving a week of amazing food, glorious hotels, and soul-warming family comfort behind us.

No more restaurants and no more comfy beds. We were back to the gypsy life.

Left with a solid six days to kill in that big city and knowing how well cities can empty wallets (even when you follow my money-saving tips), I began searching for a cheapor even better, freeplace to stay.
Madrid's Plaza Mayor
Prospects were looking gloomy until I came upon a profile in our favorite volunteer exchange website,, which sought helpers on the construction of a cathedral just outside of Madrid. The back-story told of a Spanish octogenarian named Justo who has almost single-handedly been devoting the last 50 years of his life to its construction, beginning when he was ousted from life as a monk when he fell ill with tuberculosis. Calling on no help from architects nor any real experience of his own, he devised a blueprint and went for it, draining his savings and inheritance to devote his life, as he says, to the glory of God.

Interesting enough.

I called up the number in the profile and spoke to a distracted-sounding man, aptly named Angel. In our rushed conversation, he told me that if we had sleeping bags, we could stay there, and sure, we could all eat together. We decided on the coming weekend. Score!

I wasn't kidding when I said Cathedral.
We arrived the El Catedral de Justo after two wonderful days of playing tourist in Madrid, but ready to get back to work and give the bank account a break.

The cathedral was big. It was ominous, empty, and almost eerie in its awesomeness as John and I peeked around corners and walked through piles of cement bags, looking for someone to tell us where to settle and what to do.
The future (?) dome of the cathedral, now only represented by an open steel frame
The main building, with the table you're seeing sitting underneath the open air of the dome.
Accidentally ignoring a closed gate with a "Do not enter, dangerous dog" sign, I strolled up to a small house adjacent to the cathedral just as a compact but sturdy, Jheri-curled man was walking out with a puppy.

In the halting Spanish of a nervous trespasser, I sputtered a greeting and told him we were looking for a man named Angel.

"Why?" He replied.

I began to explain that we had come to volunteer and he realized who I was, smiling to tell me that he, in fact, was the Angel we sought (having forgotten, I suppose, the sound of my accented Spanish voice that he had heard on the phone 24 hours before and earlier that week).

Informing us that there would be no work due to it being Easter Sunday, he advised us to entertain ourselves by exploring the cathedral and surrounding town.

So, we explored. We read. We wrote. We organized photos (the never-ending task of my life).
The inner courtyard...It has potential?
Where would we be sleeping? On the dusty floor of the enclosed common room/tool shed, a room which I supposed would one day be an office of sorts within the cathedral. Angel pointed out the mini fridge to reveal the two items that lay inside: some cooked french fries and a pre-made package of "Russian salad" (see: unidentified objects smothered in mayonnaise).

We had bought a head of lettuce at a small street market earlier, so foregoing the Russian "salad," we made a small green salad and some pasta that John had been carrying around for far too long, and then I swept and re-swept the floor before we laid out our sleeping pads.

When night fell, Angel stopped by with two huge German Shepard mixes that had been lolling about restlessly all day in a tiny and bare interior pen of the cathedral. He told us that he was locking up the cathedral for the night, and afterwards the dogs would be allowed to roam free all over the site for security.

"Don't leave this room. They'll bite you."

We closed the door. We opted not to leave the room.
Our humble abode for the next few nights (the floor, that is).  How to pass the time? Homemade backgammon!
After turning out the light, I startled at the shadow of one of the dogs loping past our window, looking undeniably wolf-like in the darkness. I checked the lock on the door, climbed into my sleeping bag, and forced myself not to listen for rats.

Day one at La Catedral de Justo.
Looking up at the central building from a side attachment. In the bottom right you can see some of the "stained glass" painted by Justo. Atop the towers toward the left, you can see the huge crane nests, adding a touch of magic to the place.

Now we wait to see how our first day of work goes....

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