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Bob Ross with Beast Jesus

Beast Jesus internet meme rescues ailing town's economy

Thousands have flocked to the tiny Spanish village of Borja to see the painting ‘restored’ by Cecilia Gimenéz

When geriatric art restorer Cecilia Gimenéz made an absolutely shocking attempt to restore a 1930s painting of Jesus called "Ecce Homo" (Behold The Man), it bore such little resemblance to a human being – let alone Christ – that it was renamed Ecce Mono (Behold The Monkey). Others simply gave it the name Beast Jesus.

Most of us ridiculed Gimenéz's effort (although come on, she is 83), but Beast Jesus has turned around the fortunes of the tiny town of Borja in northern Spain, where the shit painting hangs in a 16th century chapel. After all the photoshopped internet memes, Tumblr spoofs and its own Saturday Night Live skit, the botched restoration has transformed the sleepy village into a bona fide tourist attraction.

A report by the New York Times says that 150,000 people have visited Borja (population 5,000) since Ecce Homo became Ecce Mono in 2012, providing a considerable boost to the town's economy. That's 110,000 more than had visited last year, a notable increase. Entry to see Beast Jesus itself in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mercy is priced at one Euro.  

José M. Baya owns La Bóveda, a restaurant in Borja’s market plaza. Tourism has increased to the extent that he's been able to open a second joint. "The impact of Ecce Homo has been really great for businesses," he told the Times. "Sadly, everyone heads to look at a painting that, frankly, is ugly."

At first, Gimenéz was distressed by the reception to her handiwork. “I felt devastated,” she said. “They said I was a crazy, old woman who destroyed a portrait that was worth a lot of money." Now she has her own local holiday on August 25 to celebrate the good fortune that she's brought upon the town.

Gimenéz has even inspired her own opera in the US. Librettist Andrew Flack, who has travelled to Borja to research the town for his work, disputes the idea that Beast Jesus is bad art. 

"For me, it’s a story of faith," he said. "It’s a miracle how it has boosted tourism. Why are people coming to see it if it is such a terrible work of art? It’s a pilgrimage of sorts, driven by the media into a phenomenon. God works in mysterious ways. Your disaster could be my miracle."

For Gimenéz it represents something of a happy ending. Her restoration may have attracted ridicule, but how many of us can claim to have boosted our hometown's economy with a few flicks of a brush?

Watch Beast Jesus make its Saturday Night Live debut below: