Retiree builds devotional monument in his Alexandria backyard

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It took seven years, working an average of 30 hours a week, but Gustavo Erostegui has completed his retirement project: a hand-built devotional monument, complete with statues, imitation stained glass and stonework, in his backyard. 

The finished product — an octagon-shaped building measuring 22 feet high and 14 feet wide — is a reflection of his personal devotion to the Catholic faith and an inspiration for amateur construction projects.  

“I was always working alone outside, so I had plenty of time to think of the crucifixion and the very moment Jesus had to pass.” Gustavo Erostegui

“It’s the best decision I (have made) in my life, I think,” said Erostegui, 73, who ran Los Amigos restaurant in Del Ray for nearly three decades before moving on to other work. “I’m very happy to have this.”

The longtime Alexandria resident said he came up with the idea as a way to repurpose the base of a pre-existing aviary in his yard. But the idea quickly took on a life of its own. 

He decorated the floor with tiny black tiles. He painted the walls a deep blue for the Virgin Mary and the wooden doors red, to represent the blood of Christ. Friends brought him statues of saints from Peru, Colombia and Portugal. And then there was the stonework.

“For the outside of the building, I had to crack the big pieces of stone, one by one,” said Erostegui. It took him four months to cover one small section of the building, placing the stones one after another. 

It was hard work, but he said he felt close to God during the manual labor.

“I was always working alone outside, so I had plenty of time to think of the crucifixion and the very moment Jesus had to pass,” said Erostegui, who attends both Queen of Apostles in Alexandria and St. Anthony of Padua in Falls Church.

After Erostegui retired, about four years into the project, building the monument became the focus of his time. His wife encouraged him along the way. “Always I had her saying, let’s finish, let’s do that,” Erostegui said. “It helped me a lot.” 

Erostegui said there’s still one final touch needed. He’s waiting for some friends to go on vacation because he would like to have a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe from Mexico. 

All of this hasn’t been cheap. Erostegui estimates the project cost about $30,000. “You don’t notice at the moment, but it’s a little bit here, a little bit there,” he said. 

Now that construction is over, Erostegui spends a few hours in his personal devotional place every day, praying and meditating. He says one of his favorite feelings is when the sun shines through the colorful windows. 

 “I feel at peace inside of me. I feel totally at peace,” said Erostegui. “When you sit inside, that is what is reflected: the peace.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

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