When Cecilia Giménez attempted to restore the Elías García Martínez painting of Jesus in her small Spanish home town, Borja, she thought she was servicing culture as well as the church. After she had finished, the town was enraged and the internet meme “Beast Jesus” was born. Today, however, she is regarded as something of a saint.
“Ikea Monkey, Beast Jesus Style”
Speaking with the New York Times she reflected:
I felt devastated. They said it was a crazy, old woman who destroyed a portrait that was worth a lot of money.
It seems that the town no longer thinks of Giménez as the best worst painter in the world. In fact, the residents see her DIY act of refurbishment as a possible case of divine intervention. Since August of 2012, 150,000 people have visited the town to view Miss Giménez’s masterpiece. That’s 30 times the number of people who live in Borja.
According to the Times:
Nearby vineyards are squabbling over rights to splash the image on their wine labels. Her smudgy rendering is now held up as a profound pop art icon.
Mrs. Giménez — known, Madonna-like, simply as Cecilia — is celebrated each year by residents on Aug. 25, the day of her transfiguration. A comic opera is in the works in the United States, the story of how a woman ruined a fresco and saved a town.
This Christmas, the image of her “Ecce Homo” is stamped on the town’s lottery tickets. The portrait also plays a bit part in a popular Spanish movie, with a couple of thieves trying to steal it.
The nearby Museum of Colegiata, housed in a 16th century Renaissance mansion, experienced a rise in annual visits to 70,000 from 7,000 for its religious, medieval art.
Visitors of the church pay about $1.25 to see the painting, meaning it’s made somewhere around $187,500. Between food, boarding and all the other money tourism generates, it’s safe to say that Giménez really has provided for her community, if not exactly how she intended to.
Even if townsfolk are happy with the outcome, it doesn’t mean they understand it. Borja’s mayor, Miguel Arilla says, “I can’t explain the reaction. I went to see ‘Ecce Homo’ myself, and still I don’t understand it.”
Old people’s confusion is what internet gold is made of.