One can say that the history of the Novaliches district, in Quezon City, is tied with the Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy. After the Novaliches district was established in 1854, the first church was build two years later by the Augustinians. In 1856, the parish was initially called the Chapel of the Corpus Christi, dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament. In a few years, the name was later changed to the Nuestra Senora de la Merced (Our Lady of Mercy), after patron saint brought to the Philippines by the first parish priest of Novaliches, Padre Andres Martin, O.S.A.
The change of name came along with the chapel was elevated to the status of parroquia, or parish church. The original image of Our Lady of Mercy was depicted holding the Child Jesus, but this has been lost in time. The present icon is from the 20th century, when the church was reconstructed in 1928.
The present structure of the church is modernist in design, as the original building was razed to the ground in the late 1890s, by Spanish authorities. The Spaniards suspected that many of the residents supported the Katipunan Revolution of Andrés Bonifacio (1863-1897), which led to the Battle of Novaliches in 1896. After the church and much of the town of Novaliches was burned down, the land where the church stood was given to the Archdiocese of Manila.
As the town of Novaliches slowly began to rebuild, the parish was reconstructed with its new priest, Fr. Victor Reymundo. The original image of the Lady of Mercy was never found, yet another relic of the old church remained: a golden chalice encrusted with amethysts. This treasure was donated by Manuel Pavía y Lacy, 1st Marquis de Novaliches (1814-1896), who served as the Governor-General of the Philippines from 1852-1854, during the Spanish Colonial Era (1571-1898). The district Novaliches was established by Governor-General Pavía, in 1854, and was later named after him.
Major renovations were made for the church in 2001, as the parish prepared for its elevation diocesan shrine, and thus making it a pilgrimage site. One of the major charges was the carving of the retablo (altarpiece) and image of Our Lady of Mercy by Wilfredo Layug, and was commissioned by the Susano family, one of the old clans of Novaliches.
Wilfredo Tadeo Layug (born 1959) is a noted sculptor of religious imagery, from the carving town of Betis, in the province of Pampanga. Layug already displayed his raw talent at an early age, as would sculpt figures from the clay along the banks of the Betis River. In high school, Layug would work as an apprentice under two noted local artists, Apung Juan Castro and Pedro Datu. There he would often work as pulsayser, a pattern-maker and a one that draws the isometric view of an icon or furniture. In 1978, Layug to travel to Manila, with a scholarship from Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza, and take up his formal studies at the in painting at the University of Sto.Tomas. As a student, Layug won several painting competitions from 1981-1982, but his loved for sculpture was rekindled when he received the book “World History of Art” (1982 by Hugh Honour and John Fleming), by his uncle Gregorio Culala. Layug would later return to his home town, and put up his own shop, the Betis Galleria. Layug would later travel extensively in Europe to study various styles and technique in sculpture, which he would later introduce back home. His most noted experience was when he apprenticeshiped under Jose Antonio Navarro Arteaga in Seville, Spain. Layug’s works were recognized as he was awarded Presidential Merit Award for Ecclesiastical Art and the Vatican’s “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” (For the Church and the Pope), in March 2016. Layug also took on an acting role in 2013 film, Dukit.
On September 15, 2008, the parish church was proclaimed a diocesan shrine by Bishop Antonio Tobias, with its first appointed Shrine Rector was Fr. Montecarlo Viloria. And on September 8, 2009, the church installed and blessed an 18-bell carillon, in the church’s belfry.
What was once a sprawling plaza of Novaliches, the Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy is now smack in the middle of the narrow and busy intersection of Pres. Quirino Highway and Geronimo Street. Surrounded by business and commercial establishments, and overwhelmed by the chaotic traffic all around; locals and visitors may often forget the historical and religious significance of the church. Yet stepping inside, the parish becomes a haven for visitors to forget the cacophony of the world outside, and reflect on their own peace.