Vega de Río Palmas or La Vega del Río de las Palmas (“The Palm of the River Valley”), is a small picturesque village in the east of the island of Fuerteventura. The village is famous for its church of the Virgin of the Rock (Virgen de La Peña) which contains the statue of the patron saint of the island of Fuerteventura.
Vega de Río Palmas has just over 200 inhabitants and is part of the municipality of Betancuria.
Valley Río de Palmas collects rainwater from several mountain ranges; due to the impermeability of plutonic rocks forming these mountains, waters accumulate in groundwater. This explains the abundance - unusual in Fuerteventura - many native trees and shrubs in the valley: the Canary palm (Phoenix canariensis) and the Canary tamarisk (Tamarix canariensis), among others.
One kilometer downstream of Vega de Río Palmas was built the dam of Las Peñitas (Embalse de las Peñitas); the area is usually dry, but during the winter months, there are enough heavy rainfall to fill the reservoir, which is largely filled by land caused by erosion. This reservoir has created a lush palm grove in which one can observe a variety of birds. From the village of Vega de Río de Palmas, one of the most interesting walks and the finest in Fuerteventura leads to the dam through the Barranco de las Peñitas (“the ravine of small rocks”).
Below the dam, between steep cliffs of Barranco de Mal Paso, is a tiny white chapel, the chapel of Our Lady of the Rock (Ermita de la Virgen de la Peña). At the altar hangs a painting showing the discovery of a statue of the Virgin which is now in the Church of Our Lady of the Rock in the village of Vega de Río Palmas. According to a pious legend, the statue was made in the early fifteenth century to Fuerteventura by Jean de Béthencourt.
Indeed, the conqueror Jean de Béthencourt and his troop, after landing at Ajuy, would have gone up the valley of Las Peñitas to the current site of Betancuria, where he founded his capital.
During the occupation of the island by a Berber pirate, the ArráezJabán - occupation which lasted several months - the statuette was hidden; it was rediscovered in the seventeenth century, in a small cave at the foot of this rock, by Diego de Alcalá and Juan de San Torcaz, Franciscan Friars who were staying at the convent of Betancuria.
The statuette of the Virgin of the Rock was preserved in this chapel built here before being transferred to the first chapel of the village of Vega de Río Palmas. However, the chapel of the Virgin of the Rock is still a place of pilgrimage all the year round.
The village of Vega de Río Palmas has a beautiful church, located on a flowery place and planted palm trees. The church of the Virgin of the Rock (Iglesia de la Virgen de la Peña) was built in the early years of the eighteenth century to the costs of the inhabitants of the island of Fuerteventura; it was consecrated August 26, 1716.
The present church replaced a first church that was home to the image of the Virgin of the Rock; This first church was completely destroyed during the capture of the island by the Barbary pirate Jabán Arráez in 1593. This first church was rebuilt in 1666 and was home again the image of the Virgin of La Peña.
The Church of Our Lady of the Rock (Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Peña) has a classical facade in limestone - which is uncommon in the church of the island, which highlights the importance of it. The door is arch and flanked by double columns with decorated capitals. It is observed that the tympanum of the pediment is empty.
The interior is a single nave. At the bottom is a Rococo altarpiece decorated with plant motifs; the side panels have paintings depicting St. Lawrence, St. Saint Lucy and Saint Sebastian. At the center of the altar is kept the image of the Virgin of La Peña, placed in a niche on a golden pedestal and framed with a silver sun; at his feet lies a golden crescent moon.
The effigy of the Virgin of La Peña - colloquially called “La Peñita” - is an alabaster statuette, 21 cm high. The figure of the Virgin holding the Child Jesus on his right side. The child’s head is not original and was replaced after the sacrilege committed by a “mad Moorish” and reminds a traditional song from the island.
The work is French Gothic of the fifteenth century and may have been brought to the island by Jean de Béthencourt in the early fifteenth century. In his chronicles of the conquest of the Canary Islands entitled “Le Canarien “Béthencourt mentions such effigy present at the baptism of one of his son.
The image of the Virgen de la Peña - patron saint of the island of Fuerteventura - gives rise to a pilgrimage (la Romería de la Peña) that attracts the inhabitants of the island and even all the Canary Islands; For three days, the road between Antigua and Pájara is blocked to make room for the pilgrims who go on the road to Vega de Río Palmas. This pilgrimage takes place on the third Sunday of September, and results in a deployment of island folklore and popular traditions. The venerated statue is paraded in procession.