Samaritan's restoration becomes big news

Woman's handiwork on fresco of Christ in Zaragoza town catches media's eye

Ecce Homo, by García Martínez: The original (l), and the "restoration" (r).
Ecce Homo, by García Martínez: The original (l), and the "restoration" (r). Centro de estudios Borjanos (AP)

It took Elías García Martínez just two hours to complete Ecce Homo, a fresco of Christ painted directly on to a wall in the Santuario de la Misericordia chapel in the town of Borja, Zaragoza. It's not known how long a local octogenarian woman took to perform a spontaneous "restoration" of the work, but one thing is for sure: the story has caught the attention of the global media in record time, such is the peculiar nature of her handiwork.

The 19th-century work by García Martínez is adorned with the inscription: "This is the result of two hours of work for the Virgin of Mercy." While the painting, measuring 50 centimeters by 40 centimeters, has little economic value, it does have a sentimental attachment for many, and as such, two professional restorers will study it next Monday, with the aim of returning it to its original state. But the local culture councilor, Juan María de Ojeda, has told news agency Efe that it will be "very difficult" to recover the painting, given that it was done in oils, directly on to the wall.

Parodies, lookalikes, and jokes have abounded on social networks such as Twitter since news of the controversial restoration first came to light earlier this week. Even the international media have got in on the act - not for nothing is August known as "silly season" in most newspapers. French daily Le Monde reported the news with the headline: "HOLY SHIT - The restoration of a painting of Christ ends in a massacre." While the UK paper The Telegraph described the woman as "a good Samaritan," albeit under the headline "Elderly woman destroys 19th-century fresco with DIY restoration."

The news came to light following an article on the website of El Heraldo de Aragón, but the story first started on a blog at the Borjanos Study Center. "The calls to the center have come in non-stop today," reads a post on its website. "And the visits to this blog have numbered more than 40,000 at the time of writing these lines, something that has never been seen before given our very limited scope."

Restoration of painting of Christ ends in massacre," said 'Le Monde'

But on a less frivolous note, the culture chief was keen to protect the identity of the author of the restoration. "She's very upset by all of this," he explained. "She's an older lady and her personal circumstances are very difficult. She's having a tough time of it and we don't want to subject her to a trial by the public, which is why we'd rather keep her away from the media."

According to Efe, the woman entered into the church and decided "of her own accord and at her own risk" to repair the work. When she realized that "it had got out of her control," she spoke to the culture head of the town to confess the damage she had caused.

For this good Samaritan, then, it seems the old saying is true: that no good deed goes unpunished.

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