Spanish statue bodge-up is a new rival to Borja's Monkey Christ

By Sam Jones

In the footsteps of the unintentionally iconic Monkey Christ, the Tintin St George, the near-fluorescent Virgin and Child– not to mention the less than sinlessly executed Immaculate Conception – comes … well, it’s hard to say.

The latest Spanish restoration effort to provoke anguished headlines and much social media snarking is, or rather, was, a carved figure adorning an ornate, early 20th-century building in the north-western city of Palencia.

What was once the smiling face of a woman next to some livestock has been replaced with a crude countenance that bears a passing resemblance to the incumbent US president, Donald Trump. Or one of the Sand People from Star Wars. Or something from a cheese-induced nightmare. Or, to be honest, pretty much anything you wish to project on to it.

The bodged restoration came to light after an artist placed pictures of the offending visage on Facebook on Saturday.

“The pictures are a bit blurry, but you can see the prank perfectly well,” said Antonio Guzmán Capel. “It looks like the head of a cartoon character.”

The 20th-century Ecce Homo-style fresco of Christ, in Borja, Spain before and after an amateur restoration.
The 20th-century Ecce Homo-style fresco of Christ, in Borja, Spain before and after an amateur restoration. Photograph: Centro de estudios Borjanos/AP

Palencia, he added ruefully, now had an attraction to rival the Monkey Christ that propelled the town of Borja to global fame eight years ago after a devout parishioner took it upon herself to restore Elías García Martínez’s Ecce Homo before it flaked and faded into oblivion.

“I’m sure whoever did it got paid for it,” said Guzmán. “But the bigger crime was committed by the person who commissioned it and then tried to carry on as though nothing was wrong.”

Palencia’s reaction may be one of shock and anger for now, but the authorities in Borja managed to find a way to turn the great Monkey Christ fiasco of 2012 to their advantage.

That year, almost 50,000 people visited the small church where the Ecce Homo is displayed behind a protective screen. Thousands still visit the church every year and a small museum has sprung up where people can buy Ecce Homo key rings, T-shirts, teddy bears and mugs. As well as employing two caretakers, the church-museum also yields revenue that is used to help fund places at Borja’s care home for the elderly.

But for restoration experts in Spain, the latest bodged job is another example of the need for proper training, protection and investment.

“THIS #IsNotARestoration,” Spain’s Professional Association of Restorers and Conservators said in a tweet, adding, perhaps a little unnecessarily: “It’s NOT a professional intervention.”