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Belmez Faces: The Story Behind the Paranormal Phenomenon

Almost half a century later, the mystery of María Gómez's ghostly faces is still alive

Within the domain of paranormal occurrences in Spain, there's no doubt that the Belmez faces' story is one of the most popular. A case that got famous in the 70s which took over dozens of news reports, and which still makes people admire and feel fascinated decades later, dividing the public between people who think this occurrence from a small town in Jaén is a mystery, and those who think it's a fraud.

The story of the Bélmez faces dates back to August 23, 1971. That day, María Gómez, a resident of the town of Bélmez de la Moraleda (Jaén, Spain), was surprised when she saw what appeared to be a human face on her kitchen floor. Some say she got scared; others, that she was delighted about this presence. Her son chose to end the story once and for all by scraping and fixing the floor, but soon the face came up again, along with several others.

Some saw Christ's effigy, and soon enough the other faces received nicknames like Pava ('Damsel'), Fraile ('Monk') or Pelado ('Bald'), just to name a few. A great and curious audience came to see the faces, and throughout María Gómez's life, many visited the Belmez faces at her home, located in number 5 of Real Street.

There are up to 3,000 different faces counted over a span of 35 years, thanks to the intervention of notary Mr. Antonio Palacios Luque. People say some faces have swapped places or disappeared over the years.

For years, mystery journalists and parapsychologists like Germán de Argumosa, Hans Bender or Íker Jiménez have devoted time to study and cover the story of the Bélmez faces and report with the latest news.

In 2004, María Gómez died, and then Pedro Amorós, parapsychologist and president of the Spanish Society for Parapsychological Investigations (SEIP), starts on a new campaign to seek faces in Bélmez. Then, María Gómez's niece reveals new faces in María's birthplace, just a few metres away from the famed house. These new faces are reported as a scam shortly afterwards.

In 2013, an interpretation center to read Bélmez faces is open, which acts as a tourist attraction and welcomes thousands of visitors every year.

An explanation for the Belmez faces

There are two pathways to explain the appearance of the Bélmez faces. The spiritual version tells us that the faces of Bélmez de la Moraleda would be those of the deceased buried in the local cemetery, because it is known that the house is built upon an old cemetery. In this sense, we can mention Íker Jiménez's book Tumbas sin nombre ('The graves with no name'), that analyses the history of this Andalusian town.

Others claim that María Gómez created the faces herself through mental power, a phenomenon also known as teleplasty. This is apparently the thesis backed up by Germán de Argumosa and Hans Bender. The defenders of the authenticity of the Belmez faces' phenomenon point out that the family never achieved financial profit from this case.

The rational explanation for the Belmez faces claims that it might be a fraud; that the faces could be the product of humidity, or grease stains. It is also said that the first face, from which there are no remains, could have been painted by a local artist.

The Belmez faces and 'Cuarto Milenio': ghosts or fraud ghosting?

There are many that point out that all the events in Bélmez have nothing that can be considered minimally paranormal, and that this could all be a fraud, or a case of pareidolia that invites us to see faces in what is actually just a grease or humidity stain.

In that sense, we could mention Juanma Alonso's book, Las caras de Bélmez: fantasmas o fantasmadas ('The Bélmez faces: ghosts or fraud ghosting'), where the host for the Cuarto Milenio TV show appears on the cover as one of the story's main culprits. Alonso questions the journalist's methodology.

The writer isn't trying to tumble down and debunk María Gómez's testimonial of seeing a face in a supposedly supernatural stain, and how little by little things went ut of hand. Rather, he analyses whether that is a pareidolia, a paranormal phenomenon, a fraud or a miracle. Long story short, the explanation for the Bélmez faces.

Thus, he brings up data that, to his understanding, Íker Jiménez is trying to hide away. For instance, there are no pictures of the first face that showed up on the floor, the one that according to tradition was scraped away by the son of the house's owner, and which allegedly reappeared, being one of the few faces still remaining.

Also, he recalls testimonials of the time where it was said that they were grease or cooking stains, similar to others around them, and that there was an artist in town that could have helped create the face that would be later named Pava ('Damsel').

While Jiménez, in his book Tumbas sin nombre ('The graves with no name') and in his Cuarto Milenio shows, tells how those faces could have been María's relatives, and how bone remains of people who died tragically there were found, Alonso says that the house is built over an old cemetery, but just like other homes in town where nothing odd is going on.

Besides, he encourages the audience to think that Íker Jiménez pretends to keep a certain aura of mystery around Bélmez, to be able to keep squeezing that issue in TV shows and books.

The Belmez faces' movie

It's worth the while recalling that the Bélmez faces almost became part of a TV show, an X-Files attempt where issues like lycanthropy, cannibalism, or other paranormal phenomena would be discussed.

A script for a pilot episode was made, which was then taken back up for the movie 99.9, starring Spanish actress María Barranco.

She played the role of a journalist investigating the Bélmez faces, but with changed data and names. Terele Pávez played the role of the lady in whose house the puzzling faces appeared, and funny as the fates might be, years later the same actress played as María Gómez in a Cuarto Milenio special, where the house of Belmez faces was perfectly recreated.