August 23, 1971 started like any other day for María Gómez Cámara as she went about her housework in her home in the village of Bélmez de La Moraleda, in Spain. She then passed through the kitchen area and noticed something odd on the floor, a stain there where she had never noticed one before,and it seemed to be spreading even as she looked at it. She tried to wash the splotch out, but nothing seemed to work on the stubborn mark, and frustrated she left it alone for the time being. However, when she came back later to take another look the stain had evolved and changed, now resembling what looked like a human face etched into the concrete floor. When her husband and son came home to see the eerie sight, they too tried to remove it, but it defied all efforts to wash it out, even more disturbingly sometimes even supposedly changing positions and facial expressions when no one was looking. It was unsettling enough that they would eventually decide to just tear up that section of the floor and pour down new concrete, but this would not only not work, but apparently seem to make it even worse. Thus would be begin the weird oddity of what has come to be called the “Bélmez Faces.”
At first the shiny new kitchen floor was fine, that is until about a week later, when much to her horror María saw that the stain had miraculously reappeared, blooming up out from the concrete practically right before her eyes. This stain also looked like a face, even more pronounced and clearer than before, as if actively defying them to try and get rid of it, and the spooked family tried to figure out what to do. By this time, rumors were trickling out to the populace of this secluded village where everyone knew everybody else, drawing in macabre curiosity seekers who wanted to see the anomalous face for themselves, and the house was coming to be known as La Casa de las Caras (The House of the Faces). The mayor also heard of the strange phenomenon, and when he found out that the family was planning to rip up the whole floor and re-pour concrete over it yet again, he implored them not to, to preserve it until it could be properly studied.
It was arranged for the section of concrete where the face kept appearing to be cut out and removed so that it could be sent to be analyzed. Unbelievably, a new face quickly sprung up in its place, this time noticeably different from the others, and the desperate family went to the city council to see if anything could be done. It was decided that perhaps something under the house was seeping up through the concrete, so the whole floor of the kitchen was excavated in order to peer down there into the ground and try to find the source of it all. What none of them expected to find as they dug through the earth were the skeletons of several individuals, a few of them rather unsettlingly headless, buried down at a depth of around 9 feet, later to be found to date back to the 13th century. This macabre discovery garnered even more media attention, and the skeletons were removed to be taken to be reburied at a Catholic cemetery for a proper burial. One would think that this is where the story would end. After all, the bodies were at peace now, right? End of the phenomenon, right? Well, apparently wrong.
The kitchen floor was totally redone, and for a few weeks the family dared to think that the creepy ordeal was over, yet a stain appeared once again in the floor, followed by another, and another still, metamorphosing into faces. Instead of one face, there were now several, each with differing facial expressions ranging from neutrality, to a slight smile, to a scowl, to a look of abject agony. These faces would sometimes disappear, only to be replaced by another different face, and moving positions was not an uncommon thing for them to do. Among the faces were men, women, adults and children, sometimes smiling, sometimes screaming, and it was obvious that something very bizarre was going on here. The story was carried in news outlets all over the country and the world, and hundreds of people from various countries came to see the famous faces. The Perez family actually took to charging admission to come see the faces, which raised suspicions that it was being done for profit, but they remained adamant that they only wanted the paranormal images gone.
Among these many visitors were paranormal investigators, who wanted to test if this was some sort of hoax. An experiment was carried out in which the room was completely sealed and off limits to anyone for a full 3 months. When the room was opened again, it was shown that the faces had been quite active during their vacation, having moved about and changed in that time. In the meantime, sections of the concrete harboring the mysterious faces were sent to be studied were supposedly found to not show any evidence of paints or dyes, making it seem unlikely that they were artificial in nature. This convinced many paranormal researchers, who began touting it as one of the most important paranormal events of the 20th century and absolute concrete proof (no pun intended) of ghosts. Theories swirled about on what could be causing the phenomenon, such as that these were the faces of the restless dead or even evidence of what is called “thoughtography,” wherein a person projects thoughts telekinetically to etch them into an object, either intentionally or subconsciously. This idea got a boost when it was noticed that the faces often seemed to take on the emotional expressions of Maria herself, mirroring her mental state. What was going on here?
Of course there is also the possibility that this was all a forgery and hoax, but how could it be done? In the years since, the faces of Bélmez have been analyzed and investigated to try and find a rational explanation, with frustratingly mixed results. Original tests were very inconclusive, and researchers claimed that there was no paint or dye involved with their production, although others later claimed that some of the faces seemed to show under infrared lighting obvious signs of paint strokes and pigmentation. Some analyses said there were pigmentation compounds present, whereas others found no such evidence of tampering, making it all rather inconsistent and muddying the waters. Later studies have been just as frustrating, with some showing traces of the use of zinc, lead and chromium, used in paint, yet another analysis carried out by the Instituto de Cerámica y Vidrio in 1990 came to the conclusion that, “no traces of paint were found at any place.”
More recently there was an analysis carried out in 2014 by the investigative TV show Cuarto Milenio, with the research done by eminent chemical engineer José Javier Gracenea, who not only was unable to reproduce the faces through any means, but also found that the faces “weren’t made with paint” and “according to scientific knowledge and techniques employed in the analysis, there is no external manipulation or elements.” So were they made with paint or not? It’s hard to tell with these contradictory studies. Other than paint or dye, another possibility is that some sort of acidic agent was used, such as nitric, sulfuric, muriatic, or acetic acid, an oxidizing agent, or perhaps even some agent that is light sensitive and darkens in sunlight, such as silver nitrate. This still leaves the question of how Maria pulled it off under the scrutiny of so many witnesses, or how she was able to have the faces disappear or reappear and change expressions with such indelible materials, let alone how she would have been able to do it when the room was completely sealed off. María Gómez Cámara herself died in 2004 at the age of 85, and throughout her whole life she insisted that she had not faked the faces and that they were real. Later ideas are that her son, Diego Pereira, was actually the one behind the hoax, although the question of how he did it has not been conclusively answered.
Whether the original Bélmez faces were somehow hoaxed or not, the faces that would appear in the years after Maria’s death almost certainly were. Shortly after her death it was claimed by psychic researcher Pedro Amorós that new faces had appeared in the home, suggesting the phenomenon was still going on. Suddenly the story was all over the news again and people were pouring in to see these new faces, and there was an influx of visitors to the village. Unfortunately, in this case the whole thing was flatly debunked by the Spanish media, with the newspaper El Mundo publishing a damning expose on how Amorós had teamed up with the village municipal government to fake the new faces for financial gain. So was this all a hoax through and through or is there something more to it all? If this was something more, then what was it, what forces were at work and why did it manifest here of all places? Whether this was ever real or all a fraud, the Faces of Bélmez remain a popular modern day mystery that is still much discussed to this day.