Mary Undoer of Knots

At a very low point in my life, I sought the help of a therapist. When he asked what brought me there my only description was, “I feel like I am a tangled ball of yarn. I have no idea where to even begin to unravel my life.” I remember the response coming from my gut and a feeling of hopelessness pervading my spirit.

Maybe that is why the devotion of Mary Undoer of Knots and the story behind it has always resonated with me. The tradition originated with a meditation of St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, in the second century, when he compared Eve’s disobedience, tying humanity in knots, and Mary, by her obedience, undoing the knots.

The resulting devotion originated later, from a 300-year-old painting depicting Mary untying the knots of a wedding ribbon. A German nobleman, Wolfgang Langenmantel’s marriage was about to end when his wife Sophie wanted a divorce. Distressed, Wolfgang sought counsel from a wise Jesuit, Fr. Jacob Rem. Wolfgang met with the priest four times in 28 days. On the fourth visit Wolfgang brought their wedding ribbon to the priest. It was a custom of the time for the maid of honor to tie the arms of the bride and groom to symbolize union for life. Before an image of Mary, Fr. Rem prayed for the couple while untying the knots in their wedding ribbon. As he did, the ribbon became dazzling white. The priest and the couple took this as a sign of Mary hearing their prayers, and with her intercession they resolved their differences and remained married for the rest of their lives.

In 1700, 85 years later, Wolfgang’s grandson, Heironymus Langenmantel was inspired by the story of Wolfgang and Sophie. He commissioned artist Johann Schmittder to paint for the family a picture of Mary, depicting the narrative. The painting became known as Mary Undoer of Knots.

Eventually the family bequeathed it to the Carmelite Convent in St. Peter Church, Germany, where it remained unknown until 1980 when Jorge Bergoglio saw it and took the image of the painting back to Argentina in a postcard. The image of Mary Undoer of Knots became popular as he promoted it. It came to worldwide notice when Jorge became Pope Francis, and the world learned the story.

I know we can all have times, like I did, when our life seems to be in knots that are hopeless, when we lack peace and serenity. I have no doubt that with the help of my therapist friend and the grace of God, the ball of tangled yarn in my heart found a way to untangle. We always can ask Mary for help and trust in God’s mercy. She leads us to the Lord and unties the knots of our life with a mother’s love. Mary reminds us, with God’s mercy, nothing is impossible.

Click here for ideas on how we can draw closer to Mary, who will lead us closer to God.