An elderly parishioner who stunned Spanish cultural officials with an amateur and unauthorised restoration of a prized local fresco of Jesus Christ has become a hero and an international sensation. The fresco which was botched by an 80-year-old woman in a small-town church is responsible for a surge in tourism to the small Spanish village.
Celia Gimenez’s painting became an internet sensation last August when “Ecce Homo” (“Behold the Man”) a mural in a chapel in the town of Borja depicting Christ with a crown of thorns, was disfigured by Seniora Gimenez, while she attempted to restore it. It was re-dubbed “Ecce Mono” (“Behold the Monkey”) on social networking sites internationally. The painting has since become a pilgrimage site for art enthusiasts and the image has been used on T-shirts and wine labels.
The story broke when fellow worshippers raised the alarm that the 120-year-old fresco had been transformed into something which resembled a character from “Planet of the Apes”. To add to the humiliation, a local Catholic cultural foundation, the Centre for Borjanos, had just received a donation from the granddaughter of the artist to return the fresco to its former glory. ‘The woman, Cecilia Gimenez, who was in her 80s, apparently considered herself to be an artist and acted without authorisation from anyone. ‘The church was always open, as it was actively in use. Many people saw the restoration in progress but no one questioned the authority of Seniora Gimenez and even though there was a guard in attendance at all times, no one realised what she was doing until she had finished.’
Change.org created a petition on their website calling for the church to save the altered fresco. Over 80,000 signatures calling for the parish not to make any changes to her work on the painting. Tourism officials in the town of Borja in northeast Spain say it has drawn more than 40,000 visitors and raised more than 50,000 Euros for charity. Gimenez and the local council are now set to sign a merchandising deal.