Pensioner turns priceless fresco into 'Monkey Jesus': The Opera

Fiona Govan
Fiona Govan - [email protected]
Pensioner turns priceless fresco into 'Monkey Jesus': The Opera
The orginal work by Elias Garcia had deterioated before the botched restoration Photo: AFP

Three years after an octogenerian achieved worldwide notoriety when an attempt to spruce up a fresco of Christ went disastrously wrong, she is about to find renewed fame as the protagonist of an opera.


Cecilia Giménez, now 85, is a celebrity in her home of Borja, near Zaragoza, where she has changed the fortunes of a town once crippled by the economic crisis.

Her bodged restoration of an image of Christ with a crown of thorns became the butt of a million jokes on social media and has put the town firmly on the map, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to the view it.

So many in fact that the previously unremarkable town is building a visitors centre dedicated to it.

Originally called Ecce Homo – Behold the Man – the image quickly won the sobriquet “Ecce Mono” – Behold the Monkey – and was reproduced on T-shirts, souvenir mugs and wine labels.

And now the iconic image will be the protagonist in a musical created by American composer Paul Fowler and  librettist Andrew Flack.

Flack travelled over to Spain last year to spend time getting to know the woman who has arguably become Spain’s most famous living artist.

The opera, entitled Behold the Man is already in rehearsal and will premiere in Boulder, Colorado next spring before later travelling to Spain and the village where it all began.

Described as a tragicomedy, the opera will delve into the tale of how a devout woman with her good intentions and amateur brushstrokes, transformed the mural from the serene original by Elías García Martínez into something resembling a hairy monkey with a smudge for a mouth.

The work will explore the 'Monkey Jesus'  became an overnight internet sensation and how Giménez, initially, vilified and ridiculed, was transformed into the savior of the town.

Flack said he was inspired to write the opera after seeing a photograph of the restorer as the story of the botched restoration made headlines around the world.

"I can tell she’s stricken, horrified by what’s happened, and I feel so badly for her—that her well-intended mission has gone so wrong," he told The Local.

So he teamed up with Fowler to work on the opera. 

"We approach the story with reverence, but also humor," he said explaining that a highlight of the experience was getting to know Cecilia herself. 

"The family is honored we’ve found inspiration in the story and Cecilia gives her full blessing to the project," he adds.

"She says when the time is right, they will do whatever is necessary to help bring Behold The Man to Borja."



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