The Ecco Homo of Borja achieves world renown


The three stages in the life of the Borja Ecco Homo

Which do you think is best?

The efforts of 81 year old Cecilia Gimenez in Borja, near Zaragoza in Aragon, to restore a 19th century of the crucified Christ doesn’t get the appreciation she expected as thousands flock to the church to see her handiwork.

I’m sure you must have seen something about this story of a restoration that didn’t quite go as well as some people would have wanted but thought it was worth while mentioning, nonetheless, as you might not have been kept up to date with developments.

Just in case the story is new to you it’s about the restoration of a 19th century mural in a church in the town of Borja, not too far from Zaragoza in Aragon.  The original was by a local artist and some of his family still live locally, which has made it a bit more personal than it could have been.

The amateur restorer of the painting was an 81 year old parishioner, Doña Cecilia Gimenez, who could never have thought that her efforts would bring her world-wide fame.  She took it upon herself to make the image more presentable for the annual romeria that was due to take place over the weekend of  25th and 26th August.  Perhaps she thought her work would be appreciated by the crowds but never in the way that it finally worked out.

Dona Cecilia Gimenez wondering what all the fuss was about

Dona Cecilia explaining to the world her restoration methodology.

In her own defence she has said that the local parish priest knew what she was doing, and as it’s a mural on a wall in the body of the church it’s difficult to understand how anyone locally didn’t know that the painting of the head and shoulders of Christ on the cross was not undergoing some sort of transformation.  It’s hardly the case that she snuck into the church in the dead of night to carry out her nefarious deed.

When her handiwork was revealed to the world on 22nd August some reacted with horror but as the word spread further afield Doña Ceci discovered that she had friends around the world.  Within hours, it seems, a petition was started calling for the restored picture to be preserved as a unique piece of art.

Unfortunately she didn’t see this support as something to be proud of and within a couple of days retreated from the world, her friends saying that she was suffering from a panic attack.

Since then things have moved on.

The news of the painting encouraged thousands to come to Borja and visitors were queuing up so that they could have their photo taken together with the new version of the painting, a painting which most people in the past might have noted rather than taken any real interest.  I’m not an art critic but I don’t see anything in the original that makes it stand out from the countless thousands of such paintings in churches throughout the world.  At least Ceci’s effort is different.

A close up of the restored Ecco Homo of Borja

The unique primitiveness of the restored Ecco Homo

Now that there have been so many visitors to the church the priest has said that he won’t be holding a mass until all the hullabaloo has blown over.

The family of the original painter are said to be upset; professional restorers are looking to see if the process can be reversed; there is talk of prosecuting Doña Cecilia.  Now this last is ludicrous.  To take this issue any further would only make the town of Borja, the Catholic Church and any prosecution service out to be the laughing stock of the year.

And if she were to be prosecuted then I only hope that the people of Borja who have made a small fortune out of all the extra visitors over the last couple of weeks pay her defence costs.

As should the patisseries around Spain that have started to produce cakes with the image in icing.

An example of one of the creations inspired by Ceci

A cake to commemorate Ceci´s work

I don’t know if the likes of a Spanish Max Clifford exists (if s/he doesn’t then I’m sure Max is on the case) but Ceci should get something out of this.

Who, for example, is the owner of the copyright on the unique image that she has produced?  Is its reproduction allowed without her permission?  If her handiwork has changed the image out of all recognition to the original can it be said that the dead painter owns the image?  If restorers try to take the image back to pre-Ceci days would they then not be guilty of an act of vandalism? Should she not be getting a little slice of the cake out of which others are profiting from her labour?

If nothing else this money could be used for her to take art lessons.

Update: 15th December 2012

Celia’s fame continues to spread throughout the world. One of her paintings is presently up for auction on Ebay, but for the life of me I can’t find it. I will continue to look and if successful will add an image of her oil painting Las Bodegas de Borja (Borja’s Wine Cellars) to this post. Click here to see a news agency report.

Also, a badge has been produced of the restored painting.

Enamel badge of the new Ecco Homo of Borja

Enamel badge of the new Ecco Homo of Borja

The story goes on and on and no doubt will still be with us next year, when tourism starts up in Borja.


La lucha continua becomes La lluita continua

Activists at the Dia supermarket, Vilafranca del Penedes

Activists celebrate

The practice of storming supermarkets, filling trolleys with the basic necessities of life and then leaving without paying is spreading. After starting in a couple of places in Andalusia groups with a similar agenda have carried such activities in Merida, Extremadura and most recently in a town in Catalonia.

I’ve written a couple of times about the groups of people who have invaded supermarkets and taken food without paying in order to then give it to people who haven’t any resources whatsoever and depend upon charity to survive. This in a country that is part of what is supposed to be one of the biggest economic players on the planet.

This is now starting to spread.

On August 24th 50 or so people invaded a Carrefour supermarket in Merida, Extremadura. They were stopped from taking anything away as the police arrived before they could do so but whether actually taking the goods was the aim of the action is not important. The main reason is to bring to a greater public attention the severe difficulties in which some people are living. All these actions are taken in the full light of day and they often film themselves. If you are interested in seeing a short video of the action follow this link:

One of the things I found interesting about the particular case in Merida was that although the police wanted to arrest one of the leaders this did not happen as Carrefour didn’t make any accusation against him. This, I’m sure, is a directive from up on high in Carrefour as the company wants to avoid any sort of reprisals such as those called for in the boycott of Mercadona who DID make accusations against those who invaded one of their supermarkets in Andalusia.

Not an expert on law but don’t think that would be the case in the UK. If I understand it correctly in UK law it is not for the ‘victim’ to decide whether a crime has been committed, but things might be different in Spain.

What’s important to remember here is that Andalusia and Extremadura are, and have been historically, two of the poorest regions of Spain, not least as there is little industry and the majority of the population depend upon agriculture or tourism for their living.

In the video you can hear the slogan of ‘The people united will never be defeated’ and they also shouted ‘If there’s no bread for the poor then there will be no peace for the rich’.

In a press conference one of the leaders said that there was ‘no Urdangarin here’ (a reference to the husband of one of the princesses of the Spanish Royal family who is currently under investigation for corruption and dipping into the public purse) and ‘no hunter of elephants here’ (in reference to a picture of the King of Spain, Juan Carlos Borbon, standing, gun in hand, beside a dead African elephant). So no royalists in this demonstration.

Earlier this week, on Monday afternoon, September 3rd, things spread further afield and a similar action took place in the town of Vilafranca del Penedes, close to Tarragona, in Catalonia.

Another of the big supermarket chains in Spain/Catalonia, this one called Dia, was invaded by a group of people who got away with food to the value of €241.45. This time they attempted to pay with a card that had no credit but took the food anyway. The manager tried to lock everyone in until the police arrived but they found a way out and got the food taken away, only to then wait for the police to arrive outside.

The group in Vilafranca was started in order to assist those people whose homes were being repossessed after they had fallen victims ‘in the good times’ to something similar to the sub-prime mortgage scheme that started the whole house of cards falling in the US. However, they see that homelessness, poverty and hunger go hand in hand and see no contradiction in their previous stated aim and what they did yesterday.

There’s never any attempt to do things surreptitiously as they are all wearing t-shirts saying who they are and what their aim is. It seems the only growth industry in the country is that which produces t-shirts with slogans against the rich and powerful. Some of those present were arrested and they will face the courts on Wednesday of this week but they have already planned a press conference and demonstration before they enter the courtroom.

A couple of thoughts come to mind following this latest event. The first is that some employees of the supermarkets are still putting themselves forward as defenders of their company, its shareholders and their millionaire owners. In my first post about these events I made reference to an open letter sent by an activist to the woman who was so upset about the supermarket raid in Andalusia.

Secondly, I have been told by a number of people I’ve spoken to here in Catalonia over the last few weeks that this region is one of the richest in Spain and, in fact, gives more to the Spanish state than it receives. If this is true (and I don’t have the figures to hand to say one way or the other) then why are the people of Catalonia allowing their own citizens to fall into such a desperate economic situation that they feel they have to take food from the groaning shelves of the supermarkets?

The welfare state in Britain has been under attack since the moment it was established and has been chipped away at in the intervening years. However, although some would like to go even further with more cuts in such spending, in theory, at least, people in Britain should never be allowed to get into such desperate straits.

For more information another couple of links.

The first gives a brief break down of events (this time in Catalan) and also a link to Flickr where you can see some photos taken at the time. (Still have yet to work out how to put such a link directly into my posts.)

The second is a link to the blog of the organisation that organised the ‘attack’ on Monday. It’s a bit confusing, I think, but the ‘Los Videos’ link at the top takes you to a page where there are a number of YouTube videos showing what they have been involved in in the past.

See also:

‘Liberating’ basic foodstuffs from supermarkets in Andulasia

Charity is the answer!

Four days of Els Tres Monts


Monestir de Sant Llorenc del Munt i lÓbac

Els tres monts long distance walk starts in the village of Montseny and over a (suggested) period of six days arrives at the mountain top Monastery of Montserrat, 110 kilometres away. On the way you pass through a varied countryside and after some steep climbs you arrive at other sanctuaries seemingly stuck on to hill tops, offering views of the natural parks and as far as the Pyrenees.

I finally managed to complete 4 of the six stages in the walk from Montseny and Montserrat. (Stage 5 would have been a long day, with quite a considerable change in height, but stage 6 is just a steady hike up to the Monastery from the valley below.) But I don’t consider the exercise a failure.

On the contrary it was a worthwhile experience and was a walk in some very impressive countryside.

I’ve mentioned before that when you look at these hills you wouldn’t think there are any paths at all but the opposite is the truth, there are so many paths that it can, at times, make route finding difficult.

There’s also a mixture of terrain.

For an hour or two you can be happily walking along a wide, drivable track and the next you are faced with a steep, rugged, seemingly never-ending, climb which takes all your reserves and shocks the heart into working at full blast. No doubt one day it will have enough and pack in. After feeling relaxed and moving quite quickly along the flat the climb, even though you know it’s coming, is still a shock.

Walking along the tracks you clock up the kilometres (after all we are supposed to be in Europe) but on every day of the four any height is gained in a very short distance and although not on all fours or in any way climbing, there is a certain of scrambling involved to pull yourself up the steep slopes.

And during these climbs the ground under foot changes. This whole area was once under the sea and is made up with the conglomerate that looks like it has been man-made. Rocks and pebbles seem as if they have been set in concrete but time and the weather breaks this down and these individual stones once again have a life of their own, separate from the great land mass.

This, potentially, makes for a dangerous scenario. It’s very easy to fall into a false sense of security on the tracks and then lose concentration and go over on an ankle. (I think all the, small, number of accidents I had to deal with when leading groups in the hills and mountains were on such terrain.)

Here the problem is exacerbated on the final stages of the downward stretch coming into the village at the end of the day. These are often wide and very steep and the small stones are like walking on marbles and this puts a strain on the body as you’ re quite tired and the muscles are starting to scream out that enough is enough.

But after the effort of the steep climb it was always worth it. Once the blue sky is seen through the trees ahead you know you’re getting close to the top (although it always takes a bit longer to reach than first expected!). Maybe in a lather of sweat, maybe the legs a bit wobbly from taking the strain of such an incline (and with a bit of two steps forward, one step back), and maybe wondering if the heart will regain its normal rhythm but as always in the mountains that all comes with a sense of achievement.

After the steep climb on the first day the next stage was on a relatively flat plateau. Earlier in the day it had looked ominous up here from down below in Montseny but when I arrived it was perfect, weather wise that is. The sun was shining and the sky was blue and there was a strong breeze blowing which took away some of the harshness of the afternoon heat but at the same time made for pleasant walking conditions. On this plateau (known as La Calma) I’m sure this wind is blowing much of the time but wouldn’t like to be there when it might be coming from the direction of the snow-capped Pyrenees in the early spring.

After the steepest and highest climb (on day 4) there was an optional diversion off the route of 8km (four there and four back). Well it wasn’t really an option as after making all the effort to get there it would have been foolish NOT to have made it, unless the weather was so atrocious it would have been foolish to stay up so high for any longer than necessary.

Anyway, that diversion (which added 2 hours to the walk) was mainly along tracks which were shaded by the holm oaks which predominate in the area. Yes there was some dropping down and then a bit of steep final stage to get to the goal, the Monastery of Sant Llorenç del Munt on La Mola, but in general it was a very gentle and easy path – which meant it was the busiest section I encountered over the four stages. Not meeting people in any great numbers for most of my time walking was one of the joys of doing this route and this section was a bit of a culture shock.

There is a problem with this route, and the way it is described, in the fact that there are some dodgy sections which are not really advertised. Apart from the steepness of some of the sections I’ve already mentioned there were a number of occasions on the walk up La Mola that some would find too challenging.

The paths are, generally, in a good condition but some of them came out into the open and the rocks then fall away very steeply on one side – and it’s a long, long way down. Not recommended for those with a lack of confidence in heights and definitely not a place to be if there are strong and/or gusting winds.

The reason for not finishing the whole route? A mixture of time and decrepitude.

Although here for a month time seems to have just disappeared. Also this is the time of the Festa Major in the village I’m staying and in many others around and so wanted to be around to see what was happening. As it so happened I missed out on some things for reasons I’ll explain in another post but at least that was my original plan and the reason I decided that I would cut things short on the Friday.

The decrepitude comes from the knee – and age. I was passed by someone as I was following the route of the second day. That didn’t use to happen very often, but then I could still give him at least 25 years. Climbing over a thousand metres was hard enough, coming down a thousand metres played havoc with the knee. Injured years ago when not really thinking about the future and now age is only making matters worse. Like most people as they get older I’m in denial and don’t carry a stick, that’s becoming a foolish attitude.

The route down on my last day took over two hours and there was a constant pounding on the knees, although protected with a support bandage. As I’ve mentioned above the little stones on descents can be a killer and that extra breaking needed puts even more strain on already tired and aching muscles. Also at the back of my mind is the fact that after being on my feet for 8 hours, having climbed over a thousand metres and walked a distance of 26 kilometres it would feel a right fool to be crying for help within shouting distance of the final destination for that day.

If I had planned to walk on the Saturday I would not have been able to do it, getting off the stool in the bar in Mura was bad enough and will now have to see how long things take to get back to some sort of normality. I’ll do the final sections another time.

The negative from all this is that it’s going to make me alter my plans for the near future as this was meant to be a bit of a taster for an even longer walk back in Britain.

But I might take George W’s solution to everything – deny there’s a problem and just trust that technology will be able to come up with a solution.

Or I could get a stick, all depends if I remain in denial.

The slideshow is a selection of pictures from the 4 days of walking.