The Blessed Virgin Mary has always held an important part of our lives, to such an extent that she is often the one Christians turn to when they’ve got a knotty problem. Because of this Christians who understand her special place in salvific history have bestowed upon her a plenteousness of titles. She is known as Our Lady of Walsingham, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of the Streets, Our Lady of the Skies and dozens and dozens and dozens of other monikers; but one I’ve never heard of before I learned from Pope himself.
Francis has a special devotion to The Blessed Virgin Mary, Untier of Knots. It is the name of a Baroque painting entitled Wallfahrtsbild painted by Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner (1625-1707) in 1700 and displayed in the St. Peter am Perlach in Augsburg, Bavaria.
The painting depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary standing on the crescent moon, as how she typically is depicted under her moniker, the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of the Revelation or Our Lady of Guadalupe. In it, she’s surrounded by angels and crowned with a circle of twelve stars, while the Holy Spirit appears in the form of a dove and hovers over her. In her hands, Mary holds a long knotted rope which she unties. Her foot rests on the head of a “knotted” snake clearly representing Satan. Below her is the Prophet Tobias with his dog and the Archangel Raphael traveling to ask Sara for her hand in marriage.
Pope Francis saw the image while studying in Germany and took it as his own personal devotion; he’s subsequently promoted the veneration of this Marian moniker throughout Latin America.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons was the first to describe the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Untier of Knots in his Adversus haereses (“Against Heresies.”) The saint creates an analogy between Eve and the Virgin Mary, describing how “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the Virgin Mary set free through faith.”
The painting was donated around 1700 by Hieronymus Ambrosius Langenmantel (1641-1718), a priest of the Monastery of Saint Peter in Augsburg. He donated it in celebration of the reconciliation between his grandfather Wolfgang Langenmantel (1586-1637) and grandmother Sophia Rentz (1590-1649). The couple chose not to divorce, through the assistance of the Austrian priest Jakob Rem, a Jesuit from Ingolstadt who asked the Blessed Virgin Mary “to untie all knots and smoothen them” between the couple. Immediately peace was restored between the couple and the divorce didn’t occur.
Interestingly, the first church to be named in her honor was dedicated in AD 1989 in Styria, Austria in response to the crisis created by Chernobyl Nuclear Tragedy in Ukraine.
That was a particularly hellish knot.
This Catholic devotion has promoted throughout South America ever since Pope Francis, when he was still known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio SJ. He bought a postcard of the painting at the German chapel in which the painting is displayed and brought it to Argentina sometime in the 1980s.
The Jesuit connection aside, Pope Francis, prior to becoming Pope Francis, had this Marian image engraved on a chalice he gave to Pope Benedict XVI. The same silversmith has made a duplicate of this chalice and will present it to Pope Francis on behalf of the Argentine people.
Let us ask Our Lady, the Undoer of Knots, to assist our beloved Pope Francis by untying all knots in his life and smoothen them. Let’s also thank him for introducing to us yet another gracious aspect of Mary our Mother to us.