History Stories

A small church in northern Spain hired a local workshop to clean its wooden figure of St. George, but ended up with something that looks more like a cartoon character—specifically, the globetrotting reporter known asTintin

St. Michael’s Church, located in the small town of Estella, has had the figure for about 500 years. Instead of hiring a professional restorer to clean the piece, the church asked Karmacolor—which specializes in furniture and children’s arts and crafts—to do the job, and ended up with a colorful figure that looks extremely different from the original.

Members of the town who’ve spoken to the press are pretty angry about the job. So too is the wider community of restoration professionals. “We can’t tolerate more attacks on our cultural heritage,” said the Professional Association of Conservators and Restorers of Spain in an onlinestatement.

“I saw photographs of the atrocity they were committing,” said Carmen Usúa, the owner of a restoration company in Spain’s Navarra region, to the New York Times. “As a professional, I feel disconcerted and very offended. It takes years to acquire the skills necessary to carry out these kind of restorations, so imagine the frustration when something like this happens.”

Koldo Leo, the mayor of Estella, doesn’t think the workshop purposefully messed up the figure. Yet he’s upset that the process wasn’t approved by the local heritage organization, and that the “restoration” turned out so poorly.

“We have experts examining the statue now to see whether the damage can be undone,” he told the Times. “It’s possible the detail of the armor and original colors have been lost forever.”

The restoration of “Ecce Homo.” (Credit: Joanjo Aguar Matoses/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The restoration of “Ecce Homo.” (Credit: Joanjo Aguar Matoses/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The incident is similar to the 2012 botched restoration of a 19th-century fresco of Christ. In that instance, an older parishioner at another church in Borja, Spain, tried to update a painting titled Ecce Homo (“Behold the Man”).

That “restored” fresco quickly became an Internet meme, as well as a popular tourist attraction that boosted Borja’s economy. It’s possible that, if left untouched, the St. George figure could have a similar effect in Estella.

For now, the town is trying to salvage the statue, if it can. Meanwhile, people are already having their fun online. In addition to Tintin, Twitter users have made St. George memes involving a character from the children’s show LazyTown, Woody from Toy Story and Nicolas Cage.

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