If you ever get a chance to visit the Sanctuary of Mercy church in Borja, Spain, you’re likely to be confronted with a crowd of humanity all gathering around a small fresco on the church’s wall. Some 90 years ago, Elías García Martínez painted an image depicting Jesus with a crown of thorns looking forlorn into the light.
It was a pretty unremarkable fresco… until an amateur church volunteer botched the restoration. Thanks, internet.
Having existed on the internet for some time, I was well aware of the disfiguring of Jesus’ face by Cecilia Giménez that occurred in 2012. The story goes that Cecilia, an amateur art restorer that worked with the Borja church, took on the challenge of restoring the original fresco that had begun flaking and disintegrating. She worked tirelessly to fix it and when she was done, I like to imagine that she stood back, looked upon her work.
Staring back at her, a new fresco – a spiky-haired, dead-eyed monster screaming out in pain.
Perhaps she even smiled.
I don’t know what she did in that exact moment.
What I do know is that she could not have predicted, at the time, just how much this restoration would come to define her and the rest of her life. It would be her masterpiece and she would not be ready for it.
Through various news reports, the internet got wind of the bungled fix and images scorched around the web like wildfire. Poor Cecilia never knew what hit her. In fact, the local authorities at first believed that the fresco was vandalised. That cannot do wonders to an amateur art restorer’s head and for some time, Cecilia’s embarrassment resulted in her seeing a psychiatrist and taking medication.
However, the internet could not let this go and soon, visitors began to flock to the Borjan church to see the mangled head of Jesus. Some to laugh, some to stare, some to capture in real life whatever fleeting emotion the internet had unleashed upon them.
And when I say visitors – I mean a whole lot of visitors.
The small village of Borja – where less than 5000 people live – began to see a huge uptick in tourism. On the list of TripAdvisor’s things to do in Borja, Spain, visiting the Ecce Homo sits at number one. In the first four years since the ruined fresco was unveiled, the church has averaged around 110 visitors per day (and around 160,000 people have streamed through its doors).
The blight became a boon.
With such numbers flowing through its doors, the church started charging one Euro for entry. Giménez, who still works at the church, has become something of a celebrity, with tourists stopping by to take pictures with her.
The most badass part is that this monumental error has resulted in a whole lot of good. That one Euro entry fee is donated to a nursing home affiliated with the Sanctuary of Mercy. Any souvenir sales (and there are plenty, with the potato-faced Jesus printed on mugs and shirts and assorted paraphernalia) are also donated: 51 percent of the proceeds go to the home, while Giménez takes the other 49 percent so she can care for her son, who suffers from cerebral palsy.
To build something new, Giménez had to totally destroy something old – even if she did so unintentionally.
And that’s probably the best Lifehack you’ll find.
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