How a failed restoration put an insignificant Spanish town on the map

by Lorraine Williamson
mural restoration

PROVINCIA DE ZARAGOZA – It has been ten years since the administrators of the Santuario de la Misericordia church in Borja were quite shocked when they discovered the restoration of their ‘Ecce Homo’. 

Without permission, this valuable mural was ‘retouched’ by Cecilia Giménez. At the time, Cecilia was an 80-year-old resident of this small town in Aragon with only 5,000 inhabitants. But now the restoration is a source of income and a tourist attraction. 

Restoration undertaken

The Ecce Homo fresco was created in 1930 by the painter Elías García for the Borja parish. However, with the passage of time and the lack of conservation of the work, the mural deteriorated. Therefore, faced with this situation, Cecilia, a local parishioner, decided to undertake the restoration of the fresco herself. 

The woman, currently 91 years old, tried to retouch the painting several times, but the humidity of the place made the task more difficult. Cecilia kept trying until the day she had to leave town to enjoy an IMSERSO elderly trip, allowing the recently added pigments to dry. The result was a total distortion of the original fresco. 

cogesa expats

The new version of Ecce Homo quickly became the main topic of conversation in the city and even made the international news. An attempt was made to find out who had ‘destroyed’ the original work. After Cecilia admitted the facts, the story reached the journalists, who began to flock to Borja. 

Global phenomenon 

Thanks to that media attention, thousands of people started going to Borja’s church every day after hearing the news. The city council acted quickly and set up a foundation to manage tourist access to the temple, charging €3 per person. The newspaper El Diario.es states that in the last ten years, more than 300,000 visitors have visited the town. 

Although visitor numbers decrease over time, ticket sales currently yield more than €40,000 per year. The income goes towards the maintenance of the sanctuary. In addition, two guides have been appointed to show Cecilia’s work. Finally, part of the income goes to help the elderly without means in the village. 

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