God’s Mercy and the Botched Fresco

God's Mercy and the Botched Fresco Elias Garcia Martinez Ecce Homo

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

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

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?

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    • Sam

      What an amazing thrill of Mercy you shared today, Jennifer. Wow. Curiosuly enough ,Cecilia’s case is an on-going failure and mistake over which it hovers an on-going Mercy.

      At the bottom of it, this is the story of a child that undertook care of a problem nobody would take care of: the “issue” of Jesus.

      And she took the issue to her heart, boldly and unashamedly. Now, through her boldness and shame Jesus is seen and shines forth.

      This is the story of the heart of a child.

      Love you Jen.

      • Tina

        Yes it is Sam and the Father’s love for her is evident!

    • Tina

      I would like to see a painting of Jesus that reflects more of whom Scripture says that He was in Isa. 53.
      “He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
      and like a root out of dry ground.
      He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
      nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
      3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
      a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
      Like one from whom people hide their faces
      he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”
      I believe that it would help us to honor those who bear His cross of suffering physically and emotionally. Before the Protestant Reformation the Catholic church cared for the sick, the mentally and emotionally wounded and broken and they did so with a heart for Christ. They believed that those who suffered on earth bore the sufferings of Christ…it was their cross, and they took care of them and ministered to them as though they were ministering to Christ Himself. They did this in part based on the Scripture “if you have done it to the least of these you have done it unto me” . After the reformation and many began to realize that they didn’t have to earn their salvation they began to see the sick and mentally ill as evil and demonic and treated them as such often killing them.
      I guess this too is how Christ has been treated by the religious. I pray that we can once again become a people who are not afraid and can learn to tenderly care for the broken and wounded.

      • Sam

        Yes, thank you for bringing up this vision for the sick.

        Cecilia’s paint changed the “attractive” Jesus into a totally “unattractive” figure. She put in front of the beautiful painting some ugly glasses to see Jesus the way we should see Him always: counter to our “fleshly” desire to see a beatiful countenance that would inspire us. He is extremely beatiful, unmatched in beauty, but not for these outward eyes. He is beautiful for the broken hearted, not for the soulish exalted eye.


    • LA

      Oh Jen, this SO touched my heart! Thank you

    • tammy

      “And we know all things work together for good to those who love God…”
      Romans 8:28

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