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Elderly Woman Ruins 19th-Century Fresco in Restoration Attempt

Centro de Estudios Borjanos(BORJA, Spain) -- It's one thing to stage a do-it-yourself renovation on a table, mirror or painting found deep in the weeds of a yard sale.

It's quite another to attempt a repair job on a one-of-a-kind 19th-century fresco by the Spanish painter Elias Garcia Martinez with a few broad brushstrokes.

Such was the lesson learned by an elderly member of the Santuario de Misericodia church in Borja, in northeastern Spain. Her handiwork, or lack thereof, was discovered after the painter's granddaughter donated the work, "Ecce Homo," to the archive of religious paintings housed at the Centro de Estudios Borjano, also in Borja.

When officials from the center went to examine the work at the church a few weeks ago, they found it was not as Martinez had left it, the U.K.'s Telegraph reported.

The last photo taken of the artwork before any damage was done, in 2010, showed Martinez's intricate brush strokes around the face of Jesus. A photo taken in July by center officials for a catalog of regional religious art showed the painting splattered by white marks, possibly the work of the woman trying to remove paint. The final photo, taken this month after Martinez's relative donated the work, showed broad and thick layers of paint now covering important details in the work, such as the crown of thorns on Jesus' head.

While not a good day for art historians, local officials said the restoration attempt by the woman, said to be in her 80s, was not malicious, just misguided.

Juan Maria Ojeda, the city councilor in charge of cultural affairs, told the Spanish newspaper El Pais that the woman turned herself in and admitted causing the damage when she realized it had "gotten out of hand." He added that the woman, who was not identified, attempted to restore the work "with good intentions."

The U.K.'s Independent reported the church and center are now trying to assess the damage to the painting and determine whether a professional can restore Martinez's work. Ojeda added that the woman herself would meet with restorers to explain what kind of materials she used to help them undo the damage.

There was no figure given on the value of the work, said to hold more sentimental than artistic value because Martinez's family is known in the local community.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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