There’s another controversy over religious art brewing in Spain, where Jesús Cees, a 53-year-old artist, took it upon himself to paint colorful murals on the plain white walls on the historic chapel of Sant Cristòfol.
The vibrant results are being likened to the nation’s infamous “Beast Jesus” restoration fail by the Spanish media—despite the fact that Cees added his original work to a blank space, rather than painting over a historic work (a 1930 fresco by Elías García Martínez).
The remote chapel, high in the Sierra de Mariola mountains near Costa Blanca, Spain, is more than 600 years old, and authorities are reportedly less than thrilled with the new addition to a protected heritage site. Cees could potentially be fined by regional officials in Valencia for his actions.
The artist had long felt compelled to brighten up the austere chapel, which is no longer in active use by the church. Cees even asked officials in the city of Alcoy, which oversees the historic structure, if he might create a mural at the site.
“They told me not to touch it; they forbade me,” Cees told the , admitting he couldn’t resist moving forward with the idea even without permission. “The inspiration was intense… I decided to do it and ask for forgiveness later.”
Cees started painting the chapel in the summer of 2020, making the hours-long hike each morning to the mountainous holy place.
This isn’t the first time Cees has added artwork to the historic site. In 2012, he created a portrait of Saint Christopher, the chapel’s namesake, to cover up some graffiti on a wall at the entrance. Like the new murals, the work is bold and colorful, depicting the saint with yellow eyes.
This time around, when officials in Alcoy realized what Cees had done, they promptly reported the unsanctioned project to the Valencia regional government and the ministry of culture, which could order the paintings’ removal or issue fines against the artist. Cees was surprised by the reception of his works.
“What’s better? The way it is now or when the walls were blank?” he said. “It didn’t cost them a penny. What more do they want?”
But officials are worried that the murals are “discordant” with the gothic style of the chapel, according to a statement from the city council, reports .
“Without disparaging the [artist’s] work, it is anachronistic and could affect the original pigments.”
It’s still possible the city will come around—Beast Jesus was widely ridiculed, but the ridiculously bad restoration job put the town of Borja on the map, becoming such a tourist destination that officials eventually opened a dedicated art center there.
And despite the government’s negative response, Cees is hopeful he’ll be able to finish painting the space—the work is currently on hold while he recovers from two fractured wrists, broken when he fell off a ladder painting the chapel ceiling and landed on the hard stone floor below.