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Woman who ruined Spanish artwork says priest knew she was painting on it

People around the world were shocked Wednesday when images of a ruined 19th century Spanish painting of Christ were revealed. But now the woman who altered the painting is saying a priest in the church that was home to the artwork knew she was attempting to touch up the faded piece.

Celia Gimenez, the Spanish amateur restorer who tried to fix a 100-year-old Christ fresco, defends her questionable techniques saying "We saw that everything was falling down and we fixed it." NBC's Duncan Golestani reports.

Cecilia Gimenez, identified only as being "in her 80s," spoke to Televisión Española after the story spread. A reporter asked Gimenez if she had been instructed to paint on the artwork.

The BBC provides an English translation of her answer as, "Of course! It was the priest! The priest knew it, he did!"

When asked if she did the work secretly, Gimenez's translated response is, "Of course not! Everybody who came into the church could see I was painting."

But the New York Times reports that authorities in the region at first suspected vandalism, and said Gimenez had acted on her own. Authorities are considering legal action against Gimenez, the Times reports.

Television Española also spoke with Teresa Garcia, the granddaughter of Elias Garcia Martinez, the artist who painted "Ecce Homo (Behold the Man)" more than a century ago. Garcia seemed to be OK with part of Gimenez's restoration work.

"Until now, she had just painted the tunic, but the problem started when she painted on the head as well," Garcia told the reporter. "She has destroyed this painting."

Officials in the area, near Zaragoza, Spain, have contacted professional art restorers to examine the painting and suggest how it might be repaired.

Reaction to Gimenez's work has been overwhelming. Many who posted responses on TODAY's Facebook page found the final result humorous, some were outraged that Gimenez attempted to alter the work and others begged for sympathy for the would-be artist.

Wrote Geraldine Hamtil Cassidy, "Look, nobody knows what Jesus really looked like. Maybe her rendition is more accurate..." 

The BBC Europe correspondent described the painting's current state as resembling "a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic."

Should officials take legal action against Gimenez, or just try and fix the artwork as best they can? Tell us on Facebook.

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