Botched Jesus fresco becomes surprise success

The original "Ecce Homo" (L), the deteriorated version (C) and Cecilia Gimenez's  restored version.

Story highlights

  • Cecilia Gimenez's "restoration" attempt was widely mocked
  • To date, 70,000 tourists have traveled to see the paint job
  • Plans afoot to launch merchandise including postcards and cigarette lighters

When 81-year old Cecilia Gimenez took it upon herself to restore a flaking century-old fresco of Jesus on her local church's wall in Spain last year, she was treated to an international lambasting like only the Internet makes possible.

Her work, which would have looked more at home on a proud parent's fridge door than on a house of worship, spawned memes, merchandise and even a Pinterest board of alternative "restorations."

But things have taken a turn for the better, with the "Monkey Jesus" depiction, as it has become known, drawing tourists to the town of Borja in the thousands.

The church, which started charging people to see the mural, has raised €50,000 ($72,500) for a local charity from 70,000 visitors, according to local news site (Spanish only).

Local restaurant and bar owners say business is booming and there are plans to produce official lines of merchandise including plates, postcards and cigarette lighters, with the proceeds split between Gimenez and the local council.

Gimenez, who has sold artwork on eBay, even opened her own art exhibition in Borja this week, displaying pieces that suggest she is not totally devoid of talent.

"I am happy ... people are being very nice," she told The Telegraph. "There are people who supported me a lot and I am very happy because of that."

Her exhibition runs until August 24.