"...without doubt, the most important paranormal phenomenon this century."
-Professor Hans Bender, German paranormal expert
In late August of 1971, Maria Gomez Pereira noticed a stain on the hearth of her kitchen in the small town of Belmez, Spain. Maria paid little attention to the spot, but soon noticed that it seemed to grow and change with each passing day. On August 23rd, Maria glanced at the spot again.
There, staring up from the tile, was a human face.
Although somewhat crude in appearance, the stain had clearly taken the form of a person's face. The expression of the face seemed to indicate sorrow, the visage of someone burdened by deep grief and worry. Furthermore, it appeared to be female.
No amount of scrubbing or cleaning would get rid of the face, which actually looked more grievous after any attempt to rub it away. Terrified by the apparition, which continued to fluctuate on a daily basis, Maria's husband Juan took his pickaxe to the hearth tile and laid plain cement in its place. Undaunted, faces began appearing on the new concrete floor, and later in other parts of the kitchen.
On September 8th, one week after Juan destroyed the original face, an identical face appeared in exactly the same place as the first. This face eventually became known as the pava, a Spanish word meaning "female turkey".
The faces caused a huge commotion in the village, bringing in curiosity seekers, journalists, and paranormal investigators from all over the world. The Belmez authorities quickly tired of the ruckus and were convinced that the faces were a hoax or natural phenomenon of some sort. As they would soon discover, evidence of fakery or natural causes was not forthcoming.
At the urging of the city council, the kitchen floor was ripped up and the ground beneath it was excavated. A ghastly sight greeted the workmen: two headless skeletons were discovered, along with a large number of assorted human bones. Complete excavation of the ground beneath the floor would eventually turn up nine decapitated skeletons, all dating from the 13th century. Not only was the Pereira kitchen built on top of a cemetery, but the individuals interred there had died violent deaths. Further study of the area revealed that the same area had been used as a Christian, Catholic, and Muslim burial ground at various times in the past, most recently in the medieval era. Although a few local residents maintain that some of the faces resemble a family that was killed in the house during the Spanish Civil War, the apparitions are "drawn" with smooth, simple lines, not unlike the figures in the medieval Bayeux Tapestry.
The excavation of the kitchen floor seemed to intensify the phenomenon. In addition to faces, entire figures began appearing. One remarkable scene was a group of three figures, apparently two adult women and a child. Portrayed from the waist up, the three seem apprehensive about something, as indicated by their tense expressions. Another female appeared totally nude, and the figure of a particularly eerie woman had long, curly hair and empty eye sockets.
Sometimes only part of a face or body would take shape. One such fragment was unmistakably a long, slender left arm that bent at the elbow. The fingers were contorted and disproportionate to each other, and each digit ended in a well-defined point. This appeared to be a claw rather than a hand.
Madrid-based parapsychologist German de Argumosa and German paranormal expert Hans Bender came to Belmez in early 1972. In an effort to prove that no trickery was involved, de Argumosa photographed each face and sealed up the entire kitchen for a period of three months. In the presence of a crowd that included the town notary and a German television crew, the investigators placed a protective cover over each of the faces in the kitchen. With cameras rolling, the edges of the covers were sealed and the entrance to the kitchen was then closed with wax in full view of the notary. If any fraud was taking place, the investigators and city council were determined to out it.
When the three months were up, the wax seal on the kitchen door was reopened and the protective jackets removed from the faces. Not only were the faces still there, but they had continued to evolve and move about during their three months of isolation. The town authorities finally absolved the Pereira family from blame; it was clear that the phenomenon was not caused by human hands.
One of the more bizarre aspects of the phenomenon was that the faces seemed to be aware of one another, or that a higher authority made sure that certain faces appeared in the house. While a blur on the floor might contain more than one face, the faces never overlapped or interfered with one another to the point of being unrecognizable. In one instance, a tile bearing a face was removed from the house and taken to a laboratory for further study. Soon, a face identical to the one that had been removed appeared in the empty spot on the floor. When the original face was returned to the house, its replacement quickly faded away.
Experiments to detect radioactivity in the tiles were carried out, as well as x-ray tests, acoustic tests and infrared and ultraviolet photographic analysis. These tests revealed that the faces were not made up of dye, pigment or paint of any kind, nor was mold or the humidity in the house a factor. Even when one was placed in a sterile laboratory setting, the face never stopped evolving.
Whatever had taken up residence in the house did not limit itself to ghostly faces. Electronic Voice Phenomenon, or EVP, has been captured on tape in the house as recently as 2004. Although skeptics have been quick to dismiss the EVPs as conversations outside the Pereira home that were picked up by microphones inside the house, the tapes themselves tell a different story. Speaking in Spanish, some of the recordings include voices cursing, anguished cries, and nonsensical phrases. When a researcher asked a particular face what its name was, a male voice answered "el pelao". On one especially chilling recording, a mysterious speaker referred to Maria by name: "Maria, I want to leave."
Some years after the faces began appearing, Juan Pereira died in the house. His last words described a vision of the famous pava that only he could see, smiling at him as he took his last breaths. Several months after Juan's death, his face appeared among the others inside the house and was witnessed by Maria and her grandchildren.
Despite rigorous investigations, no evidence of fraud was ever discovered. While the Pereira family was not wealthy, they had very little to gain by cooking up an elaborate hoax that involved drawing ghostly faces on their kitchen floor. Clearly, the family was as perplexed about the faces as those who investigated them.
Many researchers believed that the faces were fueled by psychokinetic energy from human subjects, primarily Maria. This is very likely, as the faces seemed to change daily to emulate Maria's mood. The faces changed less often and gradually lost some clarity as Maria progressed in age.
Maria Gomez Peria died peacefully in the early hours of February 3rd, 2004. Some experts believed that the ghostly activity in the house would cease, seeing as how the main source of psychokinetic energy had been removed. Shortly after her passing, the Sociedad Española de Investigaciones Parapsicológica conducted an extensive investigation of the faces and concluded that they had not lost much intensity after Maria's death. Although there was widespread speculation that Maria's face would appear somewhere in the house, this has yet to happen.
Despite three decades of speculation and investigation, the "Faces of Belmez" remains one of the most confounding supernatural events of modern times. No scientist or skeptic has ever been able to explain the mysterious faces, figures, and voices that have haunted the house at 5 Real Street for 34 years. The images remain in the house and continue to change on an almost daily basis.
Although interest in the phenomenon has died down over the years, longtime residents of Belmez, Spain will never forget the hail of publicity, mysticism, and fear that descended on their peaceful village in the summer of 1971.