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 and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Or, alternatively, the Universe is a big, mysterious place where fully grown adults still like fart jokes and will pay good money to see an artist fail miserably. That’s not me, of course. Personally I am far above such petty… Ooh, shiny.

    • EvolutionKills

  • C Peterson

    She’s got her timing wrong by a couple of million years.

  • Damon Icke

    Some versions of this story include how the vandal took legal action against the church when she found out they were charging people to see the damage she caused. If it’s true, it’s the most awful part of the whole story. The arrogance of thinking she could repair art that is a few hundred years old, destroy it, then demand a cut doesn’t seem very christian. Then again, how would I know? I’m an amateur artist, but also an atheist.

    • Glasofruix

      Well, except that the painting is fairly fresh and not even a century old.

    • Mario Strada

      She did ask the church to devote a royalty from the tickets toward the muscular dystrophy charity, but she didn’t ask for money herself.

      That would have been hilarious.

      • SeekerLancer

        That would’ve been quite a happy ending. Though good for her for directing at least some of that money to a good cause.

    • MadDissector

      Before meddling with the painting, she tried for several years to convince both the church priest or the painter family to pay for a restauration. They didn’t show interest, saying that it was not worth it, and dismissed her even when she pointed to the fact that the picture was well beloved. After this, she decided to take care of the painting on her own. Did she think too high of her abilities? True. But I cannot consider her here the only person in fault.
      About the money, the church began asking for it after they noticed that visitors were coming in for the painting. Taking into consideration that churches are supposed to be public spaces, I don’t find too Christian either that they jump on the opportunity and demand money for entering, either.

  • newavocation

    The power of chimpanzee compels you!

  • WallofSleep

    No “Planet of the Apes” puns? I am dissapoint.

  • Mario Strada

    When this story first came out I followed it closely. I could not comprehend how someone could “restore” a painting of Jesus, of all people, in such a manner.

    I would have loved to be a fly on the wall while she was working on it. As a designer and artist myself, I know all too well how easy it is to lose perspective in a work. That’s why it is good to stop from time to time, backup a bit and maybe go have a coffee or something.

    But this one is beyond comprehension. The hair, the eyes, the mouth….

    And you know what I would have paid good money to watch? The reaction at the unveiling. To see the expression on the faces of those invited to see the restored painting would have been glorious. Too bad no one shot a video of it.

  • Mikey Nails!

    Bonobos are not monkeys.

    • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

      Ha, you beat me to it! Bonobos are what used to be called “pygmy chimpanzees.” Not monkeys.

      • Terry Firma

        FML.

    • Quintin van Zuijlen

      Don’t tell AronRa.

  • Mick

    ” ‘Thousands of people have visited in the last year and all who visited the church have left donations towards renovating the building,’ she says.”

    All? I don’t believe her. I think she’s telling lies for Jesus.

  • Pattrsn

    I think it’s a vast improvement. A side of ham with a face painted on it and a hedgehog pelt for hair, sitting on a stone or perhaps a giant wheel of cheese wrapped in a velvet burgundy curtain?

    Brilliant

    I also like the way the new christ looks directly at the viewer as if to say I may be a nightmarish absurdity but I’m ok with that.

  • busterggi

    Everyone wants to visit a freak show at least once.

  • compl3x

    Well it is good to see no one is being threatened with a beheading for insulting a religious icon.

    As far as ruining a religious piece of art goes, this is the fell good hit of the season. :-)

  • freddieknows

    All joking and religious hypocrisy aside, it really was a tragedy have a beautiful work of art like that destroyed.

  • Ryan Fox

    Did Mr. Bean do the restoration?

  • Colin Rosenthal

    Well I’m no art critic, but isn’t the original – how should I put this politely – hideous sentimental crap?

  • Goape

    Maybe when the artist pulled out a box of crayons and tightened the straps on her helmet they should have known something was up. (I like to picture my monkey Jesus in a tuxedo t-shirt.)

  • Gerry Mooney

    Monkey Jesus! I like it!

  • http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/trotsky-assassinated-in-mexico TrotskysMexicanSurprise

    Juan Maria Ojeda has to be a Jew saboteur. Because there’s no way in hell…..


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