Opera celebrates botched restoration of 'monkey jesus'

Fiona Govan
Fiona Govan - [email protected]
Opera celebrates botched restoration of 'monkey jesus'
The orginal work by Elias Garcia had deterioated before the botched restoration Photo: AFP

Four 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 86, 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.

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.

On Saturday, four years to the day when the story of the botched restoration came to the world’s attention, it will be celebrated with the staging of an operetta based on the story.

The iconic image is the protagonist in a musical created by American composer Paul Fowler and librettist Andrew Flack.

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

The comic opera, entitled Behold the Man will premiere in Borja, the village near Zaragoza where it all began, on Saturday to mark the fourth anniversary of the botched artwork.

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

Eight professional opera singers from the region of Aragon will perform accompanied by 30 members of the local choir in Borja.

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 last year when he announced the project.

"We approach the story with reverence, but also humour," 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 added.

"She will be absolutely be there on Saturday, in the front row!" he told The Local.

The one off performance of the opera will be staged in the courtyard of the 16th-century Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mercy in Borja, home to the fresco which attracts thousands of visitors each month.


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