Potato Jesus has resurrected a small town’s tourism industry, the first known economic miracle performed by a meme. The Guardian reports that the clumsy Ecce Homo restoration you may also know as “Monkey Christ” has attracted lucrative swarms of tourists to Borja, Spain. The thirsty masses are clambering over one another’s heads and shoulders, probably, to see the rendering’s blank shrimpy eyes for themselves, and as a result, the community can better care for its elderly population. Thanks, Potato Jesus.
I imagine you have seen this meme circulating online, its melting face and shrub-like toupée evoked when someone’s finished product falls way short of expectations. Potato Jesus blessed us with his presence in 2012, when concerned Borja resident Cecilia Giménez noticed that a once-regal image of Christ painted on the church wall had sustained serious damage. Half his face had peeled off! She resolved to act, color-blocking Jesus’s face with every intention of filling in the detail later — only she had to take a quick trip out of town first. In her absence, the community became incensed over the unfinished product, and shared a before-and-after photo online.
According to The Guardian, outrage subsided when people discovered the supposed vandal/amateur conservator’s identity. It probably did not hurt, either, that the image immediately gained widespread traction, and attracted admirers in droves: In December 2014, the New York Times reported that 150,000 tourists had flocked to Borja to pay their respects to Potato Jesus, each paying a euro for the privilege. Visitors can also purchase Potato Jesus swag: T-shirts, mugs, keychains, magnets, teddy bears (please, someone, send pics), mouse pads, and more. Hell, you can even buy Potato Jesus wine, should you feel so inclined.
The newfound revenue source created a new industry, which in turn created jobs. And although the numbers have sagged somewhat — The Guardian reports that Borja now gets about 16,000 tourists per year — the money has secured jobs for caretakers of the Santuario de Misericordia, which houses the Ecce Homo. Per The Guardian, it also “helps fund places at Borja’s care home for the elderly, a haven for those who would not otherwise be able to afford to live there.” Isn’t that nice?
Among the other delights Potato Jesus has spawned: a new professional direction for 81-year-old Giménez; a comedic opera; a trend toward amusing artifact makeovers, and some credible conspiracy theories to go along with it. The meme has also restored the artist’s faith in herself.
“People from all over the world are visiting the sanctuary now. That’s the best medicine,” Giménez told The Guardian. “I used to cry a lot over all this but I don’t cry any more because I can see how much I’m loved.” Such is the power of Potato Jesus.