…or, saying hello to some very old friends.
When I was a kid my parents gave me a wonderful book. Actually they gave me lots of wonderful books, but this one has stuck in my mind more than most. It was a huge Readers Digest volume with a name that went something like ‘Strange Stories, Amazing Facts’, and it was a compendium of all things weird and, well, wonderful. Record-breakers, odd animals, natural phenomena, and a whole section dedicated to the paranormal. No prizes for guessing which my favourite bit was!
The book was eventually given away and over the years I’ve forgotten much of the contents. But one or two things have stayed with me ever since, and one of the most powerful articles was about the Faces of Belmez.
According to the book, these faces appeared spontaneously on the kitchen floor of a house in the Spanish village of Belmez de la Moraleda in 1971. Given that the floor was made of concrete, this was startling to say the least. If the floor had been old tiles it might have been more understandable, given that some of the faces look similar to the figures in medieval wall paintings. Not only that, but apparently when the floor was dug up a number of skeletons were found buried underneath it. And when fresh concrete was laid, the faces reappeared.
Over the years I’ve often thought about the faces in the floor, but never thought to look them up anywhere. Then, a few days ago, I was researching something for a short story I’m working on, and hey presto! There were those familiar, disturbing features staring back at me. I followed the links, and reacquainted myself with the Faces of Belmez.
Of course, as a child I believed the story whole-heartedly. Now, with a background in medieval art and a healthy dose of cynicism, I’m not so sure. There’s that similarity to medieval paintings, for starters. Are these old murals that were re-used as a floor? Has a chemical reaction caused them to leach into the concrete from somewhere else? Or is the whole thing a complete hoax? This article, published by the Association of Paranormal Study, certainly thinks so, and lays the blame squarely at the (paint-spattered?) feet of the house owner’s son. Tests carried out on the floor revealed traces of chemicals and the elements found in paint, and the author points out the financial gain of such a spectacular tale.
That owner, a woman called Maria, died a few years ago, and we may never find out the truth. Some people still swear that the faces are genuine, fixed into the floor either by the people buried beneath, or by Maria herself. I’m less certain, but one thing remains sure – the power of stories like this to grab the attention of a young, imaginative child and stimulate a love of the supernatural that survives to this day. For that, I’m grateful to Readers Digest, Maria, and those faces on the floor.