The Malta Independent 1st April 2009, by Victor J. Rizzo –


Din l-Art Helwa recently signed a Deed of Trust with the Archdiocese of Malta, in which it agreed to restore the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mercy (Tal-Hniena) in Qrendi.

This is the fourth chapel held in trust by Din l-Art Helwa, together with St Marija ta’ Bir Miftuh in Gudja, the chapel of the Annunciation in Hal-Millieri outside Zurrieq, and the chapel of St Roque in Zebbug.

This baroque chapel was once highly venerated as a sanctuary and place of pilgrimage. It was built between 1650 and 1668 and has been attributed to the architect Mederico Blondel.

According to the website of Qrendi Local Council, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mercy is situated on the site of the medieval hamlet of Hal-Lew. This Sanctuary used to be the Vice Parish of Zurrieq before Qrendi was declared as a separate parish. The building of this church goes back to the 13th Century but it was deconsecrated in 1575 by Bishop Dusina and in 1650 a new church was built, which is the one standing to this present date. The sacristy was added later in 1668.

Parish Priest Rev. Domenico Formosa worked hard to promote this Sanctuary and on 18th March 1695 obtained of a decree from Pope Innocent XII with various indulgences for mercy.

This church is considered by historians as an architectural jewel. It has an impressive cupola and the main entrance is adorned by a portico with an arched porch embellished with various sculptures and statues.

The interior is quite large, with a nave and 3 arches, a main altar, two side altars and a sacristy. A gallery over the entrance may be reached by a stairs from the porch. From the rear end wall, extremely buttressed, stairs leads to the roof and bell-cot with 3 bells.

The main altar is adorned with exquisite stone carvings. Two angels support the 17th century titular painting of the Virgin of Mercy seated on clouds and a moon with the Christ Child standing on Her knee.

It is attributed to the Maltese artist Giuseppe d’Arena.

A considerable number of thanksgiving (ex-voto) and other paintings decorate this church. The earliest, early 17th century, depicts a fleet of galleys of the Order and from the Kingdom of Sicily trying to enter harbour to escape a storm.

One of the main benefactors of this church was Bailiff Fra Philipp-Wolfgang von Guttenberg, a Knight of the Order of St John.

Among Guttenberg’s many donations are the paintings of St Mary Magdalene attributed to the Mattia Preti school, and that of the Crucifixion, attributed to Suor Maria de Domenicis, commissioned in 1690. The paintings are situated in the Sacristy. The Holy water urn, the main altar front, and a sculpted stone decoration within the sacristy all bear his coat of arms.

The Knight also built a country house known as Palazz Guttenberg located on the left-side on entering the square leading to the chapel. Nowadays a private residence, the palace was built from 1669 till Guttenberg’s demise on 4th December 1733. Serving on the Order’s galleys, Guttenberg resided at this palace between voyages. Bailiff von Guttenberg is buried in St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta in a marked grave.

In days gone by, this sanctuary was referred to as Chiesa della Misericordia. It was used as a centre of prayer and devotion even up to recent years when members of the Society of Christian Doctrine, founded by Saint Gorg Preca, used to hold their meetings in this church.

The restoration of the chapel by Din l-Art Helwa will be possible thanks to a generous donation pledged by Bank of Valletta.