By: Daniella Palmiotto
We are starting a series dedicated to the titles of Our Lady and some of the saints that I encounter while traveling southern Italy. I had to begin with the title, Mary, Undoer of Knots because it is one of our favorite titles of Mary! Her feast day is September 28th and she is the patroness of difficult marriages, family conflicts, addictions, anxieties, and personal challenges.
I first found out about this title of Mary several years ago when my youngest brother, Paul, attended a summer camp at Ave Maria University and returned with a souvenir for me – a “Tiny Saints” keychain for Mary, Undoer of Knots. His thoughtfulness always touches me and this time, it also inspired me to learn more about this title. I loved the image and idea of Mary gently and diligently undoing the knots in our lives. I know in my life, there are many knots – certain personal and family struggles that continue to repeat themselves and seem to be “stuck” leaving me with little hope of resolution. We each have them and oftentimes, they are not necessarily the fault of a particular person, but the result of living in a broken and fallen world. It is precisely into these places where Mary comes to remind us of the power of her Son and the hope we have in His victory on the cross that overcame evil once and for all.
The quote associated with this title of Mary comes from St. Irenaeus, “Eve, by her disobedience, tied the knot of disgrace for the human race; whereas Mary, by her obedience, undid it.” St. Irenaeus was an early Church father mentioned as early as the year 177. He became Bishop of Lyons during the time of Marcus Aurelius’s persecution. In addition to his writings on Mary’s obedience undoing Eve’s disobedience, he is remembered for many contributions to the faith including his defense of the belief that Jesus was both human and divine. At the time, this doctrine was questioned by the Gnostic heresy, which taught that the body was evil. It follows that St. Irenaeus also strongly emphasized the doctrine to which SoulCore is so dedicated, namely, that human beings consist of a soul, body and spirit and that each of these three elements is redeemed and participates in the glory of God. St. Irenaeus is also remembered for one of my personal favorite quotes, “The glory of God is man fully alive” also stated as, “The glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God” (can this be any more poetic and beautiful?!). It is no wonder that Bishop Barron has shared that St. Irenaeus is one of his favorite early Church fathers
Whereas other titles of Mary, including Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, and Our Lady of Knock, began with apparitions of Mary, this title of Mary, Undoer of Knots began when her intercession led to resolution and healing in a marriage. Although St. Irenaeus developed this concept of Mary undoing the knots of Eve’s disobedience in the second century, devotion to this title of Mary grew in the 17th century.
A German nobleman, Wolfgang Langenmantel, went to Father Jakob Rem, when he was experiencing marital struggles with his wife, Sophie. Wolfgang went to four meetings with Father Rem and they invoked Mary’s intercession for the resolution of these issues. Wolfgang brought his wedding ribbon to their last meeting on September 28, 1615. This wedding ribbon had been tied around his wife and him on their wedding day to symbolize their unity in marriage.
Father Rem lifted the ribbon up to an image of Our Lady of the Snows asking for the knots in Wolfgang’s marriage to be untied. The ribbon became extremely white and the story concludes with Wolfgang and Sophie’s marriage enduring.
This answered prayer was commemorated by Wolfgang’s grandson, a priest, who commissioned an artist, Johann Melchior Georg Schmittdner, to paint an image of Mary, Undoer of Knots in 1700. It is an image that includes the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove above Mary. She is surrounded by angels and the angel on her left is handing her the knotted white ribbon and the angel on her right is receiving the unknotted ribbon that she has undone and is presenting the clean and unknotted ribbon to us. Mary is stepping on and crushing the head of the serpent. One of the interpretations of the angel and man at the very bottom of the painting is that St. Raphael the Archangel is leading Wolfgang towards Father Rem for counseling. I love this idea, that we know is true, that Mary and all of the angels intercede to bring us to the people we need at critical moments in our lives.
This image remained in Augsburg, Germany since its completion and is on display at a church called St. Peter am Perlach. Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) encountered this image. He brought a postcard of it with him when he returned to Argentina and began promoting
devotion to this title of Mary. We are grateful for Pope Francis spreading awareness of this beautiful image and encouraging us to turn to Mary, Undoer of Knots with the following prayer:
Holy Mary, full of God’s presence, during your life you accepted the Father’s will with full humility, and the devil was never able to tie you up with his confusion.
Since then, you have interceded for all our difficulties, as you did at the wedding feast of Cana. Full of kindness and patience, you show us how to untie the knots of our lives. By always being our mother, you arrange and clarify the ties that link us to the Lord.
Holy Mary, Mother of God and of us all, you untie the knots of our lives with a mother’s heart. We place our intentions in your hands [mention your prayer request], and we ask you to disentangle every knot and confusion.
Through your grace, intercession, and example, protect us from all evil, and untie the knots that keep us from being united to God. Free from confusion and error, may we find him in all things, keep our hearts in him, and serve him always in our brothers and sisters.