May 30, 2014

Editorial

Our Lady, Undoer of Knots

Before the end of May, traditionally observed as the month of Mary, we encourage you to grow in your devotion to the Blessed Virgin. In particular, we suggest Pope Francis’s favorite devotion, to Our Lady Untier of Knots, or Undoer of Knots. The pope has spoken about his devotion to Mary under this title frequently.

We confess that we were not familiar with this devotion before Pope Francis began to popularize it because it was not well known in this country. However, devotion to Mary under that title goes back to the 1700s. It began with a painting by Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner (1625-1707) that is now in the Church of St. Peter in Perlack, Augsburg, Germany.

The painting shows Mary untying knots while standing on the crescent moon and surrounded by angels, with the Holy Spirit hovering over her in the form of a dove. Her foot is on the head of a knotted snake.

Schmidtner got the idea for the painting from the words of second-century St. Irenaeus of Lyons. In his books Against Heresies, he described how “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.”

The first chapel to Our Lady Untier of Knots, though, was in Styria, Austria, completed in 1989 as a response to the nuclear tragedy at Chernobyl.

In addition to Germany and Austria, the devotion is popular in Argentina and Brazil, especially after Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, helped spread the devotion. He saw the original painting in Germany, while he was studying there, and brought a postcard back to Argentina with him. He had an image of the painting engraved on a chalice he presented to Pope Benedict XVI.

In Buenos Aires, a copy of the painting, by Ana de Betta Berti, has been in the Church of San Jose del Talar since 1996.

The devotion spread to Campinas, Brazil, about 160 miles from Sao Paolo, near the end of the 20th century when the chapel of Our Lady Undoer of Knots was dedicated. Denis and Suzel Bourgerie hung a copy of the painting there, and Suzel composed a novena to Mary under that title.

As the number of people attracted to the chapel grew, the Bourgeries were able to purchase a former nightclub, which they changed into a sanctuary that holds 3,000 people.

From there, the devotion has moved north. Edson and Rosana Bosetti moved from Brazil to Toronto, Canada. They began a lay movement registered with the Archdiocese of Toronto and started a website (www.maryundoerofknots.com) from which they distribute novena booklets. Edson Bosetti told the national Catholic weekly Our Sunday Visitor that they have distributed 200,000 booklets since 2005 to English-speaking people all over the world.

The novenas are also distributed through EWTN.

So what are these knots that Our Lady is untying, or undoing? The website answers that question: “They are the problems and struggles we face for which we do not see any solution. Knots of discord in your 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.

“They are also the knots of 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. Ah, the knots of our life! How they suffocate the soul, beat us down and betray the heart’s joy and separate us from God.”

As is true of all devotion to the Blessed Virgin, we ask her to intercede with her son. A prayer composed by Pope Francis asks her, “Through your grace, your intercession and your example, deliver us from all evil, Our Lady, and untie the knots that prevent us from being united with God, so that we, free from sin and error, may find him in all things, may have our hearts placed in him, and may serve him always in our brothers and sisters.”

—John F. Fink

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