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The damaged fresco of Christ lives again

When Cecilia Giménez’s earnest efforts to repair a damaged fresco of Christ went disastrously wrong, her efforts went viral around the world and were dubbed “Monkey Jesus”.

A decade later, the octogenarian widow and the family of the original painter have finally made peace after seeing the good the sensation has done.

More than 300,000 people have journeyed to the obscure town of Borja in eastern Spain to see perhaps the world’s most famous botch job.

Half of the money raised from tickets has been used to fund a local care home in the small town of just over 5,000 people, thanks to the generosity of Ms Gimenez, who donated half of the earnings from her surprise artist success.

Peace has also been reached in the war of words between Ms Giménez and the family of Spanish painter Emilio García Martínez whose original painting of Christ was transformed by the 88-year-old.

At first the relatives of García Martínez were furious at the damage done by the well-meaning, but perhaps not artistically talented, Ms Gimenez. But the unexpected attention which her botch job brought to the original work has brought belated fame for a forgotten artist. Time, it appears, is a great healer.

In 2012, Ms Giménez transformed Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) into something less like Christ and more like a simian. The image went viral and was dubbed Ecce Mono (Behold the Monkey)

Such was the reaction to her attempt to spruce up the painting that it inspired an opera by American composer Paul Fowler and librettist Andrew Flack.

But the family of the original painter was not so pleased.

“At first there were threats and lawyers were involved,” Marisa Ibáñez Giménez, the niece of Ms Giménez, said.

“All that has been forgotten during the past 10 years. What has remained is the fondness for Cecilia.”

Eduardo Arillo, the mayor of Borja, said the town put on an exhibition to celebrate the work of García Martinez, whose work had largely been lost to history.

“We celebrated the work of the artist… with an exhibition that recognised his career,” Mr Arillo told, an online newspaper. “[Both sides] made peace and they apologised.”

There are now canvases for anyone to paint a version of the original, with a range of souvenirs on sale to any visitors who make the pilgrimage to see how the 100-year-old fresco became famous.

Ms Giménez, who recently had a bad fall and now lives in a care home, encountered problems when she tried to restore the original painting because the wall was damp, so she decided to paint on the image in the belief it would fade away. It did not.

Her niece added: “Now she says that what she has done is a work of art and that the whole world knows her for it… She says that the Virgin of Mercy appeared to her and asked for help. That’s why she did it. I don’t believe in miracles but she does.”



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