Borja, Spain was widely introduced to the rest of the world in 2012 when the mother of all botched art restorations came to light. ‘Ecce Homo’ (Behold the Man), by Elias Garcia Martinez, was a Spanish fresco of Jesus that was located in the Sanctuary of Mercy (!!) church in Borja. As you can see from the images here, a rugged and rather interesting depiction of Jesus Christ was horrifyingly turned into a painting that would be at home on the wall of an elementary school for visually impaired children. At first glance, it seems impossible that any good could come from this cringe-inducing story, but God’s mercy is unstoppable.
A Story About Mercy
Cecilia Giménez, an elderly, amateur painter, loved ‘Ecce Homo’ and was distressed at the deteriorating condition of her “favorite” painting. She believed that she could restore the painting she loved and undertook to do so. Things did not go well. Obviously.
When people saw the result of Cecilia’s efforts, they flipped out—understandably. (I couldn’t stop laughing for five minutes the first time I saw it, and it still makes me laugh!) Cecilia was devastated. She cried every day for weeks and lost weight from not being able to eat. This woman who loved her God and her church and especially loved its beautiful fresco had made them a laughingstock. I get stressed out just thinking about the weight of shame and humiliation that she endured, but this isn’t a story about shame. This is a story about mercy.
How fitting that this hairy-monkey-puppet-looking-Jesus painting graces a pillar in a church called Sanctuary of Mercy! Because Mercy moved on behalf of Cecilia and the town now famous for her artistic boobery. People began to come to the town just to see the ruined fresco. So many people came that the church began to charge a euro just so that they could slow the crowds coming in!
Very few people will spend the money required to travel to another country just to mock a terrible painting, so what drove them to Borja? I think Mercy did. The town was suffering economically, with hundreds recently out of work, and suddenly hundreds and thousands of tourists are steadily pouring in to look at an infamously silly looking painting of Jesus. How bizarre!
God’s Mercy Never Fails
Cecilia’s failure was seen by the whole world. She suffered under a weight of criticism and condemnation that is hard to even imagine, let alone experience. A 79-year-old widow with two disabled sons, Cecilia’s life was already challenging before the lawsuits were filed. Her life was a nightmare! But mercy was so much greater.
Cecilia has been forgiven and is now beloved by her town and the tourists who frequent it. Her failure became her town’s blessing and provision. Cecilia has made peace with her claim to fame and accepts that it’s a big part of her story. There’s no doubt a hidden story between God and Cecilia alone there. But for me the great take-away is God’s mercy.
Did she fail? Absolutely! Massively and hilariously. But God’s mercy made that failure bear great fruit in her life and the lives of her neighbors. People saw the heart that waded in where it should not have, and they were drawn to that story—and the painting at the heart of it. Even with a melted-looking face, Jesus still fascinates! Who knows what else God will do for the many people that walk through the Sanctuary of Mercy?