top of page

Untier of Knots

Among the Blessed Virgin’s more recently acquired titles is the unusual designation as “Untier of Knots.” 

The origins of this expression trace to writing by early Church father St. Irenaeus. In his text “Against the Heresies,” Irenaeus identified Mary as the “New Eve” whose obedient faith untied the knot of Eve’s past disobedience according to God’s mysterious plan for humanity’s redemption.  

Overt Catholic usage of “untier of knots” emerged meaningfully in Augsburg, Germany during the 17th century. At the time, future Jesuit priest Fr. J. Melzer became captivated by a striking Marian painting acquired by the town’s St. Peter Church. 

The Baroque canvas featured the Virgin surrounded by hovering angels and suspending a cord while tending to long knotted ropes representing lives snarled by sin and discord. Melzer saw this as embodying Mary’s unique commission from heaven to spiritually reconcile situations seemingly impossible to navigate or unbind.

Over the years at Augsburg, this particular image of Mary “untier of knots” drew pilgrims seeking her intercession regarding complex dilemmas or fractured relationships human efforts alone couldn’t remedy. Tales spread of positive outcomes following heartfelt appeals to Mary under this title. 

Centuries later in 1980s Brazil, printed devotional cards with the symbolic Augsburg rendering were distributed locally by a priest whose grandparents immigrated from that German town. This reintroduced the distinctive nomenclature to Latin American popular piety. 

Eventually, the future Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio saw the cards while visiting Brazil. As a native Argentinian, the imagery and uncommon phrase captured Bergoglio who brought the custom back to Buenos Aires initiating daily Masses celebrating Mary, Untier of Knots. Following his 2013 election as Pope Francis, worldwide awareness of the expression’s theology exploded. 

Pope Francis explained his personal connection as the notion rang experientially true for life’s convolutions faced by families and clergy alike. Beyond purely spiritual dilemmas, he referenced socio-economic, justice-oriented or relational knots individuals and societies may feel powerless to loosen despite our best worldly efforts.

Here Mary had particular pertinence for Pope Francis by revealing God at work through her in the holiness of “the patient untying” of seemingly unsolvable circumstances. Release comes, just as surely as Christ’s victory.  

Thus today, invoking Mary under this title expresses trust in heavenly collaboration despite forces beyond control. It admits human limits while calling for persistence, wisdom and openness to God’s ever-available assistance to navigate adversity. Like that Augsburg painting, Mary, Untier of Knots represents Divine partnership spanning the chasms of impossibility where knots seem too tangled for mortals alone to unloose. 

bottom of page