The celebrity and popular culture figures that social media users superimposed on Jesus' face -- to lampoon Cecilia Gimenez's disfigured restoration of a century-old "ecce homo" fresco of Jesus crowned with thorns -- include Chuck Norris, Darth Vader, the 1980s television character ALF, the Mona Lisa, the Pink Panther and Expressionist artist Edvard Munch's "The Scream."
Gimenez, 81, of the northeastern Spanish town of Borja near Zaragoza, told Spanish TV network RTVE she tried to restore the fresco at the Roman Catholic Santuario de la Misericordia.
She called it her favorite local representation of Jesus. She said she was upset because parts of the fresco had flaked off due to moisture on the church's walls.
Local authorities said they first suspected vandalism but later realized the alterations -- which made Jesus' face look like that of a monkey -- were made by the elderly parishioner.
Some social media users in Spain say the defaced Jesus looks like Spanish TV personality Kiko Rivera, known popularly as Paquirrin.
Authorities said Gimenez acted on her own.
Gimenez said she didn't understand the uproar. She said she worked in broad daylight and did everything with local clergy approval.
"The priest knew it" and in fact asked her to touch up the portrait, she told RTVE. "I've never tried to do anything hidden."
Borja authorities seeking to restore the work to its original state -- this time under the guidance of art historians -- told The New York Times they were considering taking legal action against Gimenez.
Art restoration experts are to examine the fresco Monday.
Change.org started an online petition Thursday to keep the painting as it is, calling the alteration "endearing and a loving act." The petition had more than 11,000 signatures late Thursday, a United Press International check indicated.
Some Borja residents told RTVE they agreed with Change.org, saying this was the first time in more than a century anyone paid attention to the painting.
Teresa Garcia, granddaughter of Elias Garcia Martinez -- the 20th-century artist who painted the fresco in about 2 hours -- said she wants the painting restored but if it can't be restored, she wants it destroyed.
Manuel Gracia Arribas, president of the Borjano Study Center, which revealed the defacement Aug. 7, told the Spanish newspaper El Pais a U.S. university contacted him "to analyze this phenomenon from a sociological point of view" and a U.S. advertising agency wanted to analyze the mutilation's effect on social media.
The story is a trending topic on Twitter -- tagged at a much greater rate than other Twitter tags -- and is one of the most-read and -forwarded stories on many news Web sites, El Pais said.
Manuel Garcia said 27 news organizations from around the world told him they planned to cover the art-restoration experts' evaluation.
UPI Almanac for Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014
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