Who is Mary Undoer of Knots?
The Novena or Prayer to Mary, Undoer of Knots, asks the Blessed Virgin Mary to intercede with Christ to untie the knots of sin in our lives. We all have some “knots” in our lives… and Mary can untie them! The devotion to Mary, Undoer of Knots has become more popular ever since Pope Francis encouraged the devotion in Argentina, and then spoke about it during his first year as pontiff.
The theology of the devotion actually goes back to the second century. Saint Irenaeus wrote that, “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by the obedience of Mary; what the virgin Eve bound by her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith.”
Pope Francis asks:
What was Mary’s faith like?
1. The first aspect of her faith is this: Mary’s faith unties the knot of sin (cf. Lumen Gentium, 56). What does that mean? The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council took up a phrase of Saint Irenaeus, who states that "the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by the obedience of Mary; what the virgin Eve bound by her unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosened by her faith" (Adversus Haereses, III, 22, 4).
The "knot" of disobedience, the "knot" of unbelief. When children disobey their parents, we can say that a little "knot" is created. This happens if the child acts with an awareness of what he or she is doing, especially if there is a lie involved. At that moment, they break trust with their parents. You know how frequently this happens! Then the relationship with their parents needs to be purified of this fault; the child has to ask forgiveness so that harmony and trust can be restored. Something of the same sort happens in our relationship with God. When we do not listen to him, when we do not follow his will, we do concrete things that demonstrate our lack of trust in him – for that is what sin is – and a kind of knot is created deep within us. These knots take away our peace and serenity. They are dangerous, since many knots can form a tangle which gets more and more painful and difficult to undo.
But we know one thing: nothing is impossible for God’s mercy! Even the most tangled knots are loosened by his grace. And Mary, whose "yes" opened the door for God to undo the knot of the ancient disobedience, is the Mother who patiently and lovingly brings us to God, so that he can untangle the knots of our soul by his fatherly mercy. We all have some of these knots and we can ask in our heart of hearts: What are the knots in my life? "Father, my knots cannot be undone!" It is a mistake to say anything of the sort! All the knots of our heart, every knot of our conscience, can be undone. Do I ask Mary to help me trust in God’s mercy, to undo those knots, to change? She, as a woman of faith, will surely tell you: "Get up, go to the Lord: he understands you". And she leads us by the hand as a Mother, our Mother, to the embrace of our Father, the Father of mercies.
Theotokos - Mary, Mother of God
What is the Origin of devotion to Mary Undoer of
The devotion to Mary as the Undoer of Knots is the earliest in Christendom, as it goes back to the early church father, St. Ireneaus, Bishop and Martyr (130-201). In his writing Against Heresies he stated: “…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.” (St. Ireneaus, Against Heresies, III.22.4)
What is the Origin of the Painting of Mary Undoer of Knots?
The Painting Johann Georg Schmidtner, 1700, Oil on Poplar, 72" x 43 "
St. Peter's Church, Augsburg, Germany
The original painting inside St. Peter's Church.
The story of the devotion to “Mary, Undoer of Knots” is a story of a divorce that never happened, thanks to what is believed to have been the miraculous intervention of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
That miracle was depicted in a painting, which Pope Francis, when he was Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, saw hanging above the altar of a church in Germany. Moved by the image, and the story behind it, he became devoted to the Blessed Mother under that title, and brought his devotion back to Argentina.
The story dates back to about the year 1700, when the German painter Johann Melchior Georg Schmittdner was asked to provide a painting for the altar of the noble German Langenmantel family. He chose as his subject an event that had occurred to that same family some 85 years before and was central to the family’s history.
According to an account by Richard Lenar of the University of Dayton, in 1612 the German nobleman Wolfgang Langenmantel and his wife, Sophie Imoff, were on the verge of divorce. In an attempt to save their marriage, Wolfgang sought counsel on several occasions with Father Jacob Rem, a Jesuit priest, who was known for his piety and wisdom, and who, it was believed, had experienced an apparition of the Virgin Mary.
On the day of their final meeting together, Father Rem had been praying in the chapel of his monastery before an image of the Virgin Mary under the title of “Our Lady of Sorrows.”When Wolfgang met him that day he handed Father Rem his wedding ribbon, which, according to custom, had tied together the hands of the bride and groom as a symbol of their lifelong union. While praying with Wolfgang, the priest lifted the ribbon in the air and untied its knots. “As Father Rem smoothed out the ribbon, it became intensely white. Because of this happening, Wolfgang and Sophie were able to avoid a divorce and continue their marriage.”The painting based on this story depicts the Virgin Mary untying the knots of married life.
Those who come to Mary to help untie their knots come not only for marital problems, but for help with any seemingly intractable problems calling for her intercession.
There is a dove above Mary’s head. The Dove in Catholic art is a representation of the Holy Trinity coming down upon someone. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit Mary became the Mother of God and it is through Him that she receives His grace and favor.
Mary’s feet are crushing a serpent. Mary is often depicted standing on the head of a serpent. As you may recall the devil appeared to Eve as a serpent. Mary is often considered the “New Eve” as she, unlike Eve, was able to defeat Satan. Her feet crush the head of the serpent indicating her part in the victory over Satan with her lack of original sin.
A Halo of 12 Stars surround Mary’s head. The number 12 holds biblical significance, to include the 12 tribes of the Old Testament and the twelve apostles in the New Testament. Here the crown of stars signifies her Queenship of the Apostles. This common element in Marian art, comes directly from Revelation of St. John, Ch 12, where the visionary sees, “A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”
The two figures at the bottom represent Wolfgang and his guardian angel.Beneath the action taking place in heaven, the guardian angel is helping Wolfgang through his time of marital discord. Other interpret the figures at the bottom to be St. Raphael the archangel and Tobias from the Bible. Where Tobias is guided to Sarah so he can ask her to be his wife.
Two angels assist Mary at her task. Mary is surrounded by angels above her head, denoting her status as Queen of Angels. One angel presents each knots in our life to Our Lady, who careful takes each one into her hands. Once the ribbon is freed from knots Mary feeds it to the angel on her right.
Mary is wearing symbolic colors. Mary is dressed in crimson and wrapped with a deep blue flowing mantel. These colors are representative of her glory as Queen of the Universe. The color red has classically been utilized to display nobility and an elevated status. Her mantle of blue is also illustrative of royalty, peace, and nature. So, it makes sense that Mary is portrayed in these colors because she is the Queen of Heaven and Earth.
In the Mary Undoer of Knots painting, Mary is suspended between heaven and earth, gleaming with light. The brightness that surrounds her in heaven contrasts the ground and its earthly struggles. Through her intercession Mary works on our behalf to smooth out the problems we face. The original painting contains many symbols which may be overlooked at first glance.