Photo Essays

Worshipping at the Altar of Beast Jesus

Since Cecilia Giménez Zueco transformed Elías García Martínez’s “Ecce Homo” into the viral sensation “Monkey Jesus,” the Santuario de Misericordia has been turned into an interactive tribute to the two artists’ improbable collaboration.

Next to Monkey Jesus are photographs of the original version of “Ecce Homo,” showing the damage it had suffered due to the chapel’s moisture and mildew.
Next to Monkey Jesus are photographs of the original version of “Ecce Homo,” showing the damage it had suffered due to the chapel’s moisture and mildew. (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

A few weeks ago my husband and I visited the Santuario de Misericordia in Borja, Spain, home to the infamous “Monkey Jesus.” I can’t really claim that it was our love of art that took us there, though painting was involved.

The transformation of "Ecce Homo" (video by the author for Hyperallergic)
The transformation of “Ecce Homo” (video by the author for Hyperallergic)

In the summer of 2012, without oversight, the 79-year-old hobby painter Cecilia Giménez Zueco transformed Elías García Martínez’s deteriorating “Ecce Homo” fresco into “Monkey Jesus,” aka “Beast Jesus.” Virtually overnight, Giménez’s botched restoration became a worldwide internet sensation.

Instead of trying to restore the restoration, the people behind the Santuario de Misericordia decided to make Giménez’s bizarre creation work in their favor — something they may have learned from the wise people of Pisa, who never tried to straighten their famous tower. They even went one better: For 15 minutes, we could all be Borja’s famous “Monkey Jesus”!

Today the Santuario houses a permanent exhibition on the artwork’s provenance and several do-it-yourself opportunities. And for those who aren’t much into painting and photography, the gift shop offers plenty of buy-it-yourself options.

The chapel is pretty unimpressive.
The chapel is pretty unimpressive.
A lot of bang for the buck. The Monkey Jesus adventure park offers an exhibition on Cecilia Giménez’s and Elías García’s lives, a fantastic gift shop, and, of course, Monkey Jesus! (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)
A lot of bang for the buck. The Monkey Jesus adventure park offers an exhibition on Cecilia Giménez’s and Elías García’s lives, a fantastic gift shop, and, of course, Monkey Jesus!
An exhibition informs visitors about Giménez’s and Elías’s lives. In a music video Giménez appears alongside the singer Ángel Petisme.
An exhibition informs visitors about Giménez’s and Elías’s lives. In a music video Giménez appears alongside the singer Ángel Petisme.
People can stick their head through a cutout and see what it feels like to <em>be</em> Monkey Jesus.
People (like, for instance, this writer) can stick their head through a cutout and see what it feels like to be Monkey Jesus.
Visitors can paint a Monkey Jesus on top of someone else’s Monkey Jesus to see what that feels like.
Visitors can paint a Monkey Jesus on top of someone else’s Monkey Jesus to see what that feels like.
By December 2012, more than 45,000 visitors had come to the santuario to see Giménez's masterpiece.
By December 2012, more than 45,000 visitors had come to the santuario to see Giménez’s masterpiece.
Many visitors came from the Americas. Some left little flags with their names on them on the world map in the gift shop.
Many visitors came from the Americas. Some left little flags with their names on them on the world map in the gift shop.
There was even a T-shirt with three (!) Monkey Jesuses on it. It read: "What’s up?" Another one featured a Monkey Jesus mug shot that read: "Wanted."
There was even a T-shirt with three (!) Monkey Jesuses on it. It read: “What’s up?” Another one featured a Monkey Jesus mug shot that read: “Wanted.”
There were a lot of souvenirs to buy. The “Game Error” notebook is one of my favorites.
There were a lot of souvenirs to buy. The “Game Errors” notebook is one of my favorites.
For only 4 Euros, one could buy some vino del Monkey Jesus.
For only four Euros, visitors can buy some vino del Monkey Jesus.
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