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The happy ending in the Beast Jesus fresco fiasco
The residents of Borja, Spain, profit from the worst art restoration ever
Tourists are flocking to the Spanish church where this lovable monstrosity (right) hangs.
Tourists are flocking to the Spanish church where this lovable monstrosity (right) hangs. AP Photo/Centro de Estudios Borjanos
L

ast August, 81-year-old Cecilia Gimenez became a global laughingstock when she confessed to being the painter behind the "Beast Jesus" — an appallingly bad and unauthorized restoration of a 19th-century fresco in her church in Borja, Spain, depicting Jesus wearing a crown of thorns.

What a difference a year makes.

Once vilified for essentially destroying a masterpiece by a regional artist named Elias Garcia Martinez, Gimenez is now being hailed as an unlikely local hero. Her botched effort to spruce up the painting — originally named Ecce Homo (Behold the Man) but now widely known as Ecce Mono (Behold the Monkey) — has lured flocks of tourists to the town, creating a minor windfall for Gimenez, her town, and her church, the Santuario de Misericordia.

Here, a look at the economic boom fueled by what is widely seen as the worst artistic restoration of all time:

40,000
Visitors who have shown up in Borja to behold Gimenez's handiwork for themselves.

5,000
Population of Borja.

$1.30
The entry fee to see the fresco. The money goes to the town's Sancti Spiritus charity.

$66,285
Amount the fees and other donations from tourists have provided to the church's charity.

60
Elderly Borja residents living at a care home that is receiving money raised by the church.

52
Bids received on eBay for an original, 45-inch-by-34-inch painting by Gimenez in a Christmas charity fundraiser held by a Borja DJ last year.

$1,427
Winning bid for Gimenez's painting, Las Bodegas de Borja.

49
Percentage Gimenez will get from sales of merchandise bearing the image of the Beast Jesus, under a contract she signed this year with the charity overseeing the sales. The image is being emblazoned on keepsakes from T-shirts to tote bags.

5,000
Signatures on a petition at Change.org last year calling for Gimenez's version to be preserved, rather than having professional restorers try to salvage the original fresco. The petition said Gimenez's version "reveals a subtle criticism of the Church's creationist theories while questioning a resurgence of new idols."

1
Art exhibits featuring Gimenez's original paintings scheduled in Borja this month.

20
Paintings available for purchase in the show. "Now it seems like everyone's happy," Gimenez told a local paper, the Heraldo de Aragon. "I'm grateful that things have quieted down."

Sources: Associated Press, Daily Dot, Gawker, Huffington Post

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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