Above a side altar in the Abbey of St. Peter am Perlach in Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany, there hangs a beautiful Baroque painting of the Blessed Virgin dating back to the 16th century, entitled Maria Knotenlöserin, Mary, Undoer of Knots. This theology of the Blessed Virgin untying the knots actually dates back to St. Ireneus, Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul (now Lyons, France) AD 202. Inspired by the parallel made by St. Paul between Adam and Christ, St. Ireneus, in turn, compares Eve and Mary by saying, “Eve, by her disobedience, tied the knot of disgrace for the human race; whereas Mary, by Her obedience, undid it…For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the Virgin Mary set free through faith.”
In a booklet titled “Mary, Undoer of Knots Novena”, Dr. Suzel Frem Bourgerie tells us that Our Lady, under this title, “wants to help undo the most difficult knots in our lives.” She goes on to explain that these knots “…are the problems and struggles we face for which we do not see any solution … knots of discord in our family, lack of understanding between parents and children, disrespect, violence, the knots of deep hurts between husband and wife, the absence of peace and joy at home…the anguish and despair of separated couples, the dissolution of the family, the knots of a drug addict son or daughter, sick or separated from home or God, knots of alcoholism, the practice of abortion, depression, unemployment, fear, solitude….” In other words, it is all those things that “suffocate the soul, beat us down and betray the heart’s joy and even the will to continue living“, hence, separating us from God.
Hieronymus Ambrosius Langenmantel was a priest and canon law doctor at the Abbey of St. Peter am Perlach in Bavaria. He wanted to commemorate the turn of the century in 1700 by donating a family altar (a common tradition at the time) to the church of St. Peter. Canon Hieronymus was the grandson of a German nobleman, Wolfgang Langenmantel and the noblewoman Sophie Imoff. The couple had been married for some time but their relationship was very strained and they were on the verge of a divorce. Wolfgang went to see a holy priest, Fr. Jakob Rem, at the Monastery and University of Ingolstadt, to ask him for prayers to help save his marriage. For twenty-eight days he continued to visit Fr. Rem to pray with him in the chapel of the monastery before an image of Our Lady of the Snows.
St. Peter am perlach church, augsburg, Germany, that houses the original image of Our Lady undoer of knots.
Wolfgang had brought with him the ribbon from his marriage ceremony. It was an ancient custom (which is still practiced in some parts of the world today) to have the bridesmaid symbolically tie the arms of the bride and groom together during the wedding ceremony, representing their invisible union before God and men. It was this ribbon that Wolfgang gave to Fr. Rem, who then placed it before the image of the Blessed Mother. As the holy priest untied the knot and smoothed out the ribbon, it is said to have become “intensely white”. Wolfgang saw this as a sign from Heaven. He returned home with confidence that Our Lady would look after them. He and Sophie were able to save their marriage and they lived out the rest of their days happily together. It was therefore to their memory that Canon Hieronymus had this altar erected and then commissioned a painter, Johann Melchior Georg Schmittdner, to do a painting to commemorate this miraculous event in the life of his grandparents.
In the painting Schmittdner depicts the Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception. She is shown crushing the head of the serpent, since she is the serpent’s eternal opponent, being exempt from all stain of original sin by a special grace from God. Above Our Lady is shown the dove to symbolize that Mary is the Bride of the Holy Spirit and in her hands she holds a long ribbon and is untying the knots. On either side of her are angels assisting her; first, by presenting the ribbon of the knots of our lives to her, and then returning these ribbons back to us, freed from these knots. On the bottom of the image, below Our Lady’s feet, we can see the worried nobleman Wolfgang Langenmantel, accompanied by the Archangel Raphael, hurrying towards the monastery. This painting has survived wars, revolutions and secular opposition, and to this day, continues to draw people to it from all over the world.
A very close friend first introduced me to this devotion a few years ago. She was undergoing some very severe trials in her life. We would talk for long periods of time together, her, pouring out her heart to me, and I, in turn, doing my best to encourage and console her. One day she told me about the novena to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. She had come across it and began saying it every day. The change that it brought about in her was amazing! Little by little I witnessed as her desperate situation was somehow all worked out. She had found peace where before it seemed impossible.
When I began saying this novena myself, I came to realize that this is not a “quick-fix” to life’s problems. Mary does ask of us a commitment, a complete and total surrender to her. More often than not, it is our sins that have us the most “tied up”, as all human suffering can somehow be traced back to that. We therefore need to have a change of heart, detaching ourselves from all that can keep us separated from God. Then, with a complete and total trust in God’s love for us as His children, there is no knot too tight, even those knots that have come about due to our sins, which Mary is unable to undo.