The Sanctuary or Shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy is built on the site of an earlier, medieval church which served the village of Hal Lew (then part of Żurrieq but now part of Qrendi). The original church probably dates back to the 13th century but recent restoration works in the church revealed further, possibly earlier excavations.
The Current Church
During the pastoral visit of Bishop Dusina in 1575, it is reported that the church was in a very bad state and Dusina issued instructions to have it deconsecrated.
However the church was a place of pilgrimage and great devotion ( as witnessed by the ex-voto painting) and, as a result, a new church was built in the mid-17th century. The sanctuary is currently being restored.
Architecturally, the new baroque church is quite ornate when compared to other country churches of a similar size, with a sculpted parvis, 14 depictions of saints, known as the auxiliary saints, adorning the church. The saints are St. Barbara, St. Margaret, St. Catherine, Saint George, St. Erasmus of Formia. St. Pantaleon, St. Vitus, St. Denis, St. Christopher, St. Agathius, St. Giles, St. Eustace, St. Blaise and St. Cryiacus. All are saints that are invoked in times of trouble. The church has a nave, 3 arches and a buttressed rear wall.
There is also an interesting painting of a donkey (a representation of satan) carrying baskets with the 7 deadly sins.
The titular painting, by Giuseppe d’Arena, is of our Lady holding baby Jesus while being crowned by angels and flanked by St. Cajetan and by souls of the faithfully departed. St. Cajetan would have been cannonised only shortly before the consecration of the new church.
Pope Innocent XII granted permission for indulgences to pilgrims visiting this shrine. The portico, which also has a well, was used by pilgrims to rest at the end of their pilgrimage or before starting their return journey. There were also stables adjoining the portico.
Bailiff Fra Philipp-Wolfgang von Guttenberg, a Knight of the Order of St John, was a benefector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy, donating, amongst others, the paintings of the crucifiction by De Domenici and of Mary Magdalene (school of Mattia Preti). He also left his mark in the various artwork in or around the church in the form of the English Rose which is the emblem on the Coat of Arms of the Guttenberg family.
The Holy water urn, the main altar front, and a sculpted stone decoration within the sacristy all bear his coat of arms. Another Holy water urn has his name inscribed on it.
Is it a coincidence then, that the Quattuordecim Auxiliatores (Auxiliary Saints) are a devotion attributed to Germany and the main benefactor of this church was, a German knight?
His palace, said to offer respite to pilgrims visiting the shrine, is within the shrine’s square.
From the Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy we loop back to triq tal-Hniena, continuing into Triq tal-Vjatku, turning right into Triq l-Gwiewel. TYhis country road takes us, past the Qrendi cemetary to Ħal Millieri and the churches of the Annunciation of Our Lady and of St. John the Evangelist.