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Holy Mess! Spain's Disfigured Christ Mural Remains A Hit With Tourists

The clumsy restoration of a mural of Christ in a Spanish chapel 10 years ago shocked, then amused Spaniards and millions more abroad, and gave the local town a level of publicity, and tourist revenues, it never had nor could have hoped for. Here's how it looks 10 years later.

Man in front of the notorious disfigured Christ mural inside a chapel in Borja​

Man in front of the notorious disfigured Christ mural inside a Borja chapel

Marina Artusa

BORJA — Among the countless pictures and images of Christ around the world, it might not be outlandish to imagine that one of them might seek revenge — using humidity as the instrument of its vengeance.

One might say this of a by-now notorious mural of Christ inside a chapel in Borja in the province of Aragón, northern Spain.

Painted in 1930 by a painter and academic, the image was smothered in 2012 by Cecilia Giménez Zueca, a local resident and amateur painter. She wanted to help no doubt, but her "unfinished" restoration turned a venerable image of the suffering Christ — an Ecce Homo — into a bloated, indefinable cartoon.


And it made the news, big time, putting Borja on the tourist map. Travel agencies began organizing tours to Borja, and over 235,000 tourists have already visited the comical disaster.

A not-so notable history

The original painting may not have been much. It covered part of a side wall of the Sanctuary of Mercy or chapel of the Caserón de Borja, reputedly Spain's oldest travel inn. Pilgrims walking to Santiago de Compostela would stop here.

In 1937, the actress Imperio Argentina filmed scenes from her film Nobleza baturra ("Aragon's Nobility") in the inn.

Today the historic inn houses 36 rental flats, while the three euros it costs to see Cecilia's puffy Christ have helped finance the Holy Spirit Hospital of Borja, the nearby pensioners' home whose residents include Cecilia, now aged 91.

Her intervention has inspired an opera, earned itself a mention in an article on Madonna, the singer, and generates endless memes online. People have made cakes and pies covered with this Ecce Homo, as well as souvenirs like cups and keyrings. A machine at the chapel entrance invites visitors to mint a coin with this face.

Goodwill turned disaster

María José, or Pepa, is a Borja resident who charges the entry fee for the chapel. Like others, she will tell you Cecilia decided in 2012 to "fix" the portrait as, she said then, "it's looking awful."

The mural was painted a year before Cecilia was born, by Elías García Martínez, a teacher at the Zaragoza School of Art (he was copying an earlier Christ he painted in 1918).

Pepa says "you think this is the first time she touched it?" Cecilia, she adds, habitually came every summer to clean the chapel, walking five kilometers up a hill from Borja. Indeed, she had an "interventionist" reputation with the local heritage.

I started painting the face, and it came out all wrong.

In this case, use of water in the restoration combined with the wall's considerable humidity, wiped away and likely mixed certain colors to leave, well, a mess.

"I'll come back and finish it in a few days, it's not a big deal," she said, according to Pepa. She then went on holiday. Before her return, neighbors and the press, notably the local Heraldo de Aragón, had arrived, and her intervention went viral.

A couple from Málaga in southern Spain and three girls from Madrid listen as Pepa talks. The girls then pose beside the suffering Christ and she takes their picture with a cellphone.

She goes on: "They wouldn't let her touch it again. She's always said she hadn't finished. She left it like that as she intended to finish her work after her vacation." She was "attacked a lot," says Pepa, referring to the initial outrage the restoration caused across the country.

\u200bPaintings of the Christ in Borja

Before-and-after photos of the Borja Christ

garaziu

A new tourist attraction

In 2012, another Clarín correspondent, Leonardo Torresi, visited Borja to see the picture when it was all the rage. Cecilia told him "something compelled" her to fix that Christ, a "kind of force inside me, but I still don't know what it was."

Some townsfolk claim she has privately admitted, "I started painting the face, and it came out all wrong."

Cecilia moves in a wheelchair today, but wants to get better so she can return to the chapel. She was married there, her two children were baptized and took their communion there, by the original painting.

Today, Pepa says "there were all kinds of reactions because there are people who don't like our town being known for this, and others who do." She doesn't mind, she says, "but there is so much more to Borja." She admits so many people used to pass through Borja without stopping. Now, she says, "they come to see this, and stay in the area."

The municipality has no intention of restoring the painting. "Would you have come to see the original," Pepa asks?

And yet, the painting will have its revenge. Cecilia's version is starting to peel, for the humidity. "This bit fell off yesterday," says Pepa, holding a piece from the edge.

Who'll be the one to restore this version, I ask her, to which she replies, "nobody."

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Geopolitics

Jacinda Ardern Stuns The World: The Early Adieu Of New Zealand's Unique Political Leader

It's rare that the Prime Minister of New Zealand becomes a globally recognized leader. But Ardern, who was the youngest female elected head of government in history, deserved all the positive attention.

Picture of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in May 2022

Richard Shaw

Well, no one saw that coming. For those in New Zealand relieved that Christmas is over because it means politics resumes, this week held the promise of a cabinet reshuffle, the possible unveiling of some meaty new policy and, if we were really lucky, the announcement of the date of this year’s general election.

We got the last of these (it will be on October 14). What we also got, however, was the announcement that in three weeks’ time one of the most popular – and powerful – prime ministers in recent New Zealand history will be stepping down.

It isn’t difficult to divine why Jacinda Ardern has reached her decision. As she herself put it:

"I believe that leading a country is the most privileged job anyone could ever have but also one of the more challenging. You cannot and should not do it unless you have a full tank plus a bit in reserve for those unexpected challenges."

She has had more than her fair share of such challenges: a domestic terror attack in Christchurch, a major natural disaster at Whakaari-White Island, a global pandemic and, most recently, a cost-of-living crisis.

On top of that, of course, she has had to chart a way through the usual slate of policy issues that have bedevilled governments for decades in this country, including the cost of housing, child poverty, inequality and the climate crisis. Clearly, the Ardern tank is empty.

But it isn’t just about the policy. Along with other women politicians, Ardern faces a constant barrage of online and in-person abuse – from anti-vaxxers, misogynists and sundry others who simply don’t like her.

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