Over 40 years ago a woman in a rural Polish parish found a canvas painting hanging in a priest’s chamber, which she concluded was an El Greco masterpiece. However, it has been largely ignored by the art world over rumours that it may not be genuine.

The woman, Izabella Galicka, found the painting after scouring the countryside for hidden works of art. The canvas is called 'Ecstasy of Saint Francis,’ and is one of over 100 paintings of Saint Francis painted by El Greco and his students. It is thought to date from between 1575 and 1580 and shows the saint with a skull and stigmata.

Initially, when Galicka and her colleague, Hanna Sygietynska, first found the picture, which had been significantly darkened with soot over time, they concluded that the 3.4ft x 2.4ft canvas originated from the El Greco school. They later decided it was the work of the master himself. Their theory was corroborated in 1974 when an art restorer removed over-painting carried out crudely to try to pass the painting off as a Van Dyck, and discovered a signature for Domenikos Theotokopoulos, El Greco’s real name.

The Church hid the painting for fear that it would be confiscated by the, then Communist, government. It was finally put on display in 2004, but the 15 year disappearance has added to doubt about the painting’s authenticity.

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