Our Lady Undoer of Knots (Schmidtner)

Maureen Dillon

Devotion to Our Lady Undoer of Knots

Knots. Unless you’re talking to a sailor or fisherman, knots are often seen in a negative light. In the average person’s life they tend to show up in the wrong place at the wrong time and can be anywhere from mildly frustrating to debilitating. I think we all have some experience with this. I’m not just talking about the struggle to untangle your earbuds with one hand--while rushing for the bus with your coffee, bag, and whatever other paraphernalia accompanies your person and is suddenly clearly designed to make your life uncomfortable. This is admittedly very annoying and always a little mysterious (how do they always end up in a knot?). Still, I’m really referring to the more frustrating and, often times, even serious kinds of knots that we encounter in our lives. Those that tie us up internally, emotionally, and spiritually. Those that keep us from progress in healthy relationship with ourselves, one another, and God. And even those that are external and/or circumstantial but keep us from meaningful progress in our lives and vocations—a difficult or undesirable living situation or work environment, lack of direction, an illness or injury. These kinds of knots are going to take some work, time, and focus to undo. More than that, they’re going to require some help. And there is help. I’d like to introduce you to Maria Knötenloserin--Our Lady Undoer (or Untier) of knots.

Some Background of Maria Knötenloserin

Until recently, Our Lady Undoer of Knots has been lesser known among the many beautiful titles and devotions of Our Lady. As one Pope Francis’ favorite Marian invocations, Our Lady Undoer of Knots has gained more recognition and many devotees—especially in the Pope’s home country of Argentina. The title originated in 17th century Bavaria, however, and arises from a German noble family’s experience of Mary’s intercessory role. At the direction of his spiritual advisor, Fr. Jacob Rem, nobleman Wolfgang Langenmantel sought Mary’s special aide in his deeply troubled marriage. The two men prayed together and during their final meeting, Wolfgang brought his wedding ribbon—the ribbon that was used to bind Wolfgang and his bride together as a traditional part of their wedding ceremony. Fr. Rem presented the ribbon to an image of Our Lady, begging her to “untie all the knots” in the Langenmantel’s marriage. After the prayer, Fr. Rem smoothed out the ribbon, which had now become snowy white. Wolfgang took heart that his prayers had been answered and returned home with renewed hope. Not much further is known about Wolfgang Langenmantel, except that he and his wife reconciled and remained devoted to one another until death.

The story of Our Lady’s intercessory role became an important one in the Langenmantel family, however, and around the year 1700, Wolfgang’s grandson Hieronymus Langenmantel, a priest, commissioned an artist to paint an image of Our Lady in the process of untying the knots that threatened his grandparents’ marriage. The painting remained in Augsburg, Germany and was first seen by Pope Francis (then Jorge Mario Bergoglio) in the Church of St. Peter am Perlach in the 1980’s as he completed his studies in Germany. Struck by the beauty of the image and its symbolism for all of us, the future Pope bought a postcard of it, brought it back to Argentina, and continued to promote devotion to Our Lady Undoer of Knots.

Deeper Theological Underpinnings for Our Church

Outside the personal problems of the Langenmantel family, this painting, Marian title, and the concept of Our Lady as the Undoer of Knots has a longstanding deeper theological significance to Church in her understanding and recognition of Our Lady as Co-Redemptrix. In fact, the concept of Mary as an “Undoer of Knots” is ancient and appears in St. Irenaeus of Lyons’ work Adversus Haereses (3,22), in which he writes: “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.” Pope Francis, too, in his St. Peter’s Square Address For the Marian Day (October 12, 2013), touched on the significance of Mary in “[untying] the knot of sin…the ‘knot’ of disobedience…the ‘knot’ of unbelief ” with her faith. Sin and fallen nature bound us to this world and its distractions and sufferings. Our Lady’s faith, her unconditional “yes” to God, rejected the world with its concerns and its limitations. For she knew and believed as she was told: that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:31).

Practical Significance for Our Spiritual Lives

There is so much to be gained from a meditation of Our Lady Undoer of Knots. She impacts us on so many levels, but here are three things that I welcome you to contemplate in light of the personal and theological origins of this title and image of Our Lady described above:

First, on the individual level, what knots do you have in your life that you could surrender to Mary as Wolfgang Langenmantel did? What obstacles stand between you and authentic Christian joy? Between you and virtue? What pains have you experienced in your life that you am holding onto? What experiences or attachments are holding you back from living a life fully dedicated to God? What true challenges do you face that you cannot face alone? These can be handed over to your mother for loosening.

On the deeper theological and universal level, consider that Mary’s cooperation has “untied” the knot of sin and disobedience and become a channel of redemption of the world through the life, death, and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. How does this free you from the knots that you see in your life? How does this renew your hope and bring you relief?

Finally, how does Mary teach you that faith is the key to loosening the bonds of this world and untying knots?

Practicing Devotion to Our Lady Undoer of Knots

Today marks the first day in the beautiful Novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots. I really encourage you to consider beginning a devotion to Mary under this lovely title. She is our heavenly mother and all of the knots in our lives—small and large—can be hopefully and safely entrusted to her.