As a child, I adored putting on marionette shows but anytime the strings got tangled I had to go to my Mom to have them put right again. That, in a nutshell, is the point to the image of Mary, Untier of Knots.
Mary, Untier of Knots, is the name of a Baroque painting by Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner, painted around 1700. The painting survived wars, revolutions, convent living and secular opposition, still adorning a church in Bavaria, Germany.
Originally commissioned by the grandson of a wealthy couple to commemorate his grandparents’ marital discord and when his grandfather went to a priest for help. The priest suggested asking Mary since she, as he displayed with white ribbon, untied our knots.
The husband did and the couple stayed together.
Pope Francis saw the painting while studying in Germany as a student back in the 1980s. He bought a postcard with the image and began promoting her image back home in Argentina to trust Mary to untangle your difficulties/knots in life.
I’m partial to this version of the Virgin as it is quite tactile and even more so at a Yucatan jungle church. One part of the jungle features white ribbons folks knotted to trees with their concerns. Then another part of the jungle has colored ribbons proclaiming appreciation for when the knots were undone.
How clever is that?
Immediately I tried to convince local churches into doing a smaller scale version of the knots where I’d commission a large painting of Mary to donate, signs explaining plus the ribbons, markers and such so the church had no fiduciary responsibilities.
I learned to not consider an updated copy of the painting to display. The more European/Spanish the image appears the more seriously it is taken by the faithful and likely be used in processions. Pity, as often modern takes on her image are quite lovely.
A pal suggested the chapel in Ojo de Aqua as they’ve many trees in front to tie the ribbons to. However, since the ribbons aren’t natural that notion was pooh-poohed by the Department of Ecology.
Just getting any local priest to support your effort can prove elusive. Some may if you sponsor a host (pun intended) of other events unrelated to your veneration. Others may only to be shot down on the diocesan level. Others may be your biggest cheerleader then get moved to another parish with their replacement disinterested. This is one reason statues in a church move around as it depends what images are vital to the current clergy.
My ace in the hole was the Atotonilco monastery. For years I delivered tours and sweets to the lads so I was known entity. Best part is the head monk is from Argentina where Mary Untier of Knots’ image is popular thanks to the Pope. I wasn’t quite sweet enough as my timing was off given they’ve already ordered her image to place on the cloister’s grounds and weren’t interested in the more tactile, ribbon approach.
So it’s time to go even more local, namely my home. My thinking is using the front courtyard to place requests to be knotted on white ribbons. Then, once the problem is unknotted, a multi-colored ribbon will be tied in the larger, center courtyard. I’ve already received multiple requests on-line so the Marian project is off to a good start.
Feel free to message me privately with your request and I’ll tie the knot for you during these stay at home times. No need to tell me your business so one word, or an acronym, will suffice as Mary is good at languages. Once your problem is unknotted let me know to place your appreciation ribbon.
When the pandemic ends people will come by and tie the knots on their own. Perhaps by then San Miguel de Allende’s Mary of the Knots will have found a more public venue. Fingers crossed the nuns at Mexiquito’s orphanage will be open to the idea once their charges are perfectly safe and the town’s most popular wedding chapel re-opens. Fitting given the whole image started with a couple considering divorce.
Some assume it with the husband walking with an angel to go seek marital counseling from the priest who illustrated the Mary and knots allegory.
Others feel it is the story of Tobias. Tobias walked with the angel Raphael (in disguise) to propose to his cousin Sara. Sara had married multiple times prior but the husband always died on their wedding day. Raphael worked his angel magic assuring Tobias that as “Sara’s closest relative” he’d survive the wedding night consummation.
by Joseph Toone
- TripAdvisor’s top tour guide with History and Culture Walking Tours and Joseph Toone Tours.
- Amazon’s best selling author of the San Miguel de Allende Secrets books.
- Author of the Maria Dolls coloring book helping indigenous doll makers.
- Creator of San Miguel de Allende Secrets YouTube channel with over 100 videos and 1,500 views monthly.