The earliest reference to this depiction of Our Lady is found in Adversus haereses, “Against Heresies,” written by St. Irenaeus of Lyons in the second century. In Book III, Chapter 22, he draws a parallel between Eve and Mary. “The knot of Eve’s disobedience,” he writes, “was loosed by the obedience of Mary” (Gen 3:15). In its basic theological meaning, the image symbolizes Mary untying the knot of the first sin and first act of disobedience in the Garden.
The painting, oil on poplar, was executed in 1700 by Johann Georg Schmidtner and is cast in the typical Baroque style with its dramatic flair and didactic effect. Our Lady is flanked by two angels. She is untying knots from a long marriage ribbon which, in the seventeenth century, represented the marital union. It has also come to symbolize the knots that are part of any marriage. At the same time, she presses her foot crushing the head of a coiled (or knotted) serpent. The painting is located in St. Peter’s Church in Augsburg.
Pope Francis and Our Lady, Untier of Knots
Our Lady’s ingenuity and her practical streak are captured in the title dear to the heart of Pope Francis. He has cultivated a special devotion to Our Lady depicted as the one who unties knots. While a graduate student in Germany, he was inspired by a Bavarian painting entitled, “Holy Mother, Our Lady, Untier of Knots.” When he returned to Argentina with a copy of that image on a postcard, he had an icon struck with this same title. He seems intent on following Our Lady’s example by untying knots within the Church and in the wider community of nations.
Today, devotion to Our Lady under this title is growing by leaps and bounds. It can touch those beset by sudden illness, sudden financial trouble, sudden ‘anything.’ Devotion to Our Lady under this title is especially popular among married people, given her active role at the wedding at Cana.
There are countless visuals depicting the wedding at Cana but none more telling than that of Giotto, the fourteenth-century Florentine painter. The fresco of Cana is the eighth of twenty-four in the life of Christ painted on the walls of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. The unusual fresco shows Mary with her hand raised in blessing as her son performs the miracle that she has initiated. The feast day of Mary, “untier of knots,” falls on September 28th.