Virgen de la Peña – Patroness of Fuerteventura

When September arrives there are two events that the Majoreros always have in mind: going back to school, and the Peña festivities.

Although this year, 2020, due to the COVID health alert, the popular pilgrimage of La Peña will not take place, FuerteventurActiva does not want to miss this celebration, one of the most important recreational-religious festivities on the island.

Today we approach the patron saint of Fuerteventura: the Virgen de la Peña.

Virgen de la Peña.

 

The Virgen de la Peña is a small alabaster carving, 21 centimeters high. It dates from the first decades of the 15th century. It is one of the oldest sculptures in the Canary Islands.

The image, framed within the French Gothic style, possibly came from the workshops of the “Master of Rimini.” It represents a seated Virgin with a child.

This type of carving was widely distributed in Europe. It was designed to be carried on long trips and during war campaigns. However, the devotion to the patron saint of Fuerteventura is not related to the image itself, but to her “miraculous” apparition.

The apparition of the Virgen de la Peña.

The legend of the apparition of the Virgen de la Peña has two Franciscan friars as protagonists: Fray Juan de Santorcaz and San Diego de Alcalá. These friars were among the first to inhabit the San Buenaventura Convent, in Betancuria.

Juan de Santorcaz was in charge of the formation of the friars, while Diego de Alcalá was the “guardian” of the convent, something like a doorman.

According to legend, one spring night Juan de Santorcaz went out to look for medicinal herbs. San Diego, responsible for the entry and exit of the friars, seeing that he took time  to return, went in search of him. He asked some shepherds and they told him that they had not seen him, although during the night they saw strange lights in the Barranco de Malpaso.

San Diego and the shepherds went to Las Peñitas and found Father Santorcaz’s hat in a pool of water. The monk, inside the pool, was illuminated by a halo, kneeling reading his breviary and under the water. One of the shepherds jumped into the water, taking him out unscathed and totally dry.

Fray Juan said that heavenly music and rays of light came out from those rocks. Pick in hand, and without wasting time the shepherds struck the stone until the image of the Virgin appeared.

In the place of the discovery the hermitage of Malpaso was built.

The hermitage of Malpaso.

There are few data about the construction of the hermitage of Malpaso, except that in 1497 it was already built. For a long time it housed the carving of the Virgen de la Peña, a painting and an image of Santa Lucía, expressly brought from the mainland.

Due to the danger of crossing the gorge to reach the hermitage of Malpaso, the sanctuary was closed in 1586. The hermitage suffered a marked abandonment for almost 200 years, which left it in a sorry state. It was rebuilt at the end of the 18th century.

The danger of crossing the gorge to reach the hermitage of Malpaso, caused the sanctuary to be closed in 1586. The hermitage suffered a marked abandonment for almost 200 years, which left it in a lamentable state. It was rebuilt at the end of the 18th century.

As an anecdote, it is worth mentioning that, in January 1933, there was a big storm that washed away many farms. The storm destroyed an old flour mill and the hermitage of Santa Lucía, located approximately where the Peñitas dam is. However, the hermitage of Malpaso did not suffer any damage.

Sanctuary of the Virgen de la Peña.

After the closure of the hermitage of Malpaso, thanks to the contributions of the neighbors, a modest hermitage was built in Vega de Río Palmas. After its demolition, the current church that houses the image of Nuestra Señora de la Peña was built at the beginning of the 18th century.

The sanctuary consists of a single nave with a differentiated main chapel behind a main arch and choir at the foot.

From the temple it is necessary to emphasize, above all, its beautiful altarpiece and the wooden roof of the Main Chapel.

The pilgrimage of La Peña

On the day of the Peña, popular devotion and cultural traditions are revealed. The festivities are held around the third Saturday in September, in Vega del Río Palmas. However, there are many people who come to the Shrine in the previous days.

The march on foot to Vega del Río Palmas begins on Friday. Pilgrimage groups come out from all over the island, singing traditional songs and the Coplas to the Virgin of La Peña, accompanied, of course, by timples and guitars.

After sunset there is one of the most impressive pictures of the pilgrimage. From afar you can see meandering tongues of lights ascending the slopes of the mountains. They are the lanterns (formerly torches) that illuminate the steps of the pilgrims.

Thousands are the people who congregate, on Saturday at noon, around the patron saint of Fuerteventura.

Why is the pilgrimage of the Virgen de la Peña celebrated in September?

The festivities of the Virgen de la Peña are an example of pagan festivities adapted to the Christian religion, like our Christmas, the Day of the Cross, or San Juan.

All the cultures of cereal tradition have held celebrations at the end of the harvesting. More or less in the first half of September. In them people gathered to drink, dance, sing and socialize before the autumn rains began.

The church that people got together without a saint involved was not amusing. So they decided that these festivals had to be celebrated around some patron saint. In Fuerteventura, the Virgen de la Peña, patron saint of the island since the middle of the 16th century, was elected. Surely you know more pilgrimages that take place in September.

Cover photo:Gabriel Fuselli

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