Botched Restoration Boosts Church Attendance: ‘Monkey Jesus’ Fresco Is Now a Big Tourist Draw

If you were an atheist vandal with a mischievous streak, you couldn’t possibly top what the devout Cecilia Giménez pulled a year ago. The octogenarian wannabe painter took it upon herself to restore a water-damaged Spanish church fresco by renowned painter Elías García Martínez. The work, entitled Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) used to depict Jesus, head cocked coquettishly, wearing a crown of thorns. But by the time Ms. Giménez was done with it, the portrait more closely resembled a hirsute bonobo monkey, no doubt giving ammunition (and laughing cramps) to Darwinists everywhere.

The well-intentioned-but-very-botched transformation, horrifying and comical at once, finally brought the rogue restorer a measure of attention that her original works hadn’t. Juan Maria Ojeda, the local city councilor in charge of cultural affairs, initially proposed that

“If we can’t fix it, we will probably cover the wall with a photo of the painting.”

But even though a fix was indeed impossible, the diocese that owns the painting decided to leave the ruined fresco up, perhaps as a reminder that not everyone is equally capable with a paintbrush.

And guess what? Last year’s Internet infamy is this year’s shot at bona fide fame. Giménez has gone from object of ridicule to minor celebrity. Yesterday, she kicked off a gallery show of her own works:

Thanks to the support of residents of her town of Borja — and many others around the world — it seems Giménez has fully recovered. And she’s about to show off 28 of her paintings at an exhibition… She even argues her botched restoration has been “good for Borja”, suggesting it put the town “on the map”. Thousands of people have visited in the last year and all who visited the church have left donations towards renovating the building, she says.

It’s true. So many Spanish and foreign visitors have been flocking to the church for a chance to guffaw at “Monkey Christ” that the authorities now charge admittance.

God must really work in mysterious ways… so much so that he may reward you even if you portray his son as a monkey.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.