A Fine Patroness for the Synod & for Troubled Marriages

Devotional images of the Blessed Mother tend not to be particularly fine works of art, but are cherished because they are reminders of the Mother of Jesus, to whom Christians turn for her intercessory help. Artistically there are few notable examples of fine art that inform popular piety. In fact finer depictions of Mary in art are now appreciated more for aesthetic qualities rather than as aids to devotion. Examples of fine art influencing popular piety tend to be more local, such as the image of Mary, Salus Populi Romani in Italy. Rarely does a devotional image of fine artistry find its way to a more global recognition although the icon of Mary, Mother of Perpetual Help, the tilma on which the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe appears, and Murillo’s Immaculate Conception, are recognized throughout the world.

Pope Francis has drawn the attention of the world to an image of Mary that is an example of fine art. The painting of Mary, Untier of Knots was painted by Baroque era artist, Johann Georg Schmidtner c. 1700. The painting depicts Mary looking similar to other images of her under the title Immaculate Conception, with the exception that here she is busy untying ribbon.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio first saw the painting of Mary Untier of Knots in Augsburg during his days studying in Germany. He returned to Argentina and, there, supported the spread of the image which is now known far beyond Germany or South America. The Church of San José del Talar in Buenos Aires houses a copy of the painting and has become a popular pilgrimage site. During Pope Francis trip to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families a grotto of ribbons outside the Archdiocesan Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter & Paul housed a replica of the Holy Father’s favorite painting of Mary. The ribbons were covered with written prayer petitions.

Untier of Knots

Mary, Untier of Knots

The origins of the content, of Our Lady untying knots, is not generic. While it may be common for children to run to their mothers to undo shoelaces or tangled rosaries, the origin of this particular image is more specific. This specificity at this juncture in history, during a Synod on the Family and in a time of weakened perseverance in marriage, makes it surprising that the paintings origins are not more widely known or written about.

The painting was commissioned as an offering of thanksgiving to God, in honor of the Blessed Mother for having saved a marriage that was on the rocks. The story has it that Ambrosius Langenmantel, a priest, donated the painting to a local Church. The painting commemorates the healing of his grandparents’ marriage. The Blessed Mother is symbolically shown to be renewing their bonds by smoothing out ribbon. Ambrosius’s grandfather Wolfgang Langenmantel sought out the famed Jesuit spiritual director Jakob Rem as he worried his marriage to his wife Sophia may be coming to an end. Rem was known to be devoted to the Blessed Mother. The essential elements of the various renditions of the story agree that Rem prayed that the marriage bond of Wolfgang and Sophia would be smoothed out through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. Their marriage held together.

The Lord Jesus gave prominence to the intercession of his mother in the context of a married couple in need, at Cana of Galilee. The vocation of the married couple is to be an icon of Christ loving his Church and helping her to flourish.

Mary Untier of Knots, pray for the Synod on the Family and for all married couples.


Fr. Hugh Vincent Dyer O.P. is a member of the Order of Preachers, Province of St. Joseph. Originally from Albany, New York, Father graduated St. Anselm College and the Dominican House of Studies and was ordained in 2008. He serves as chaplain to the All Saints Sisters of the Poor in Catonsville, Md. while also helping at the Dominican parish of SS. Philip & James where among other tasks he serves as facilitator of the Tea & Short Reads Book Group and Chaplain to the Knights of Columbus and is also active giving retreat talks in the greater D.C. Baltimore area. His areas of interest include the lives of the saints, Church History, Urban culture, aesthetics and Catholic Social Teaching.

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  • Maria 3

    Thank you ; had not realized the particular circumstances of the origin of this image and good to know how it is the Holy Father , through whom The Mother chose to make this devotion more widespread .

    The warnings from The Lord , about the return of the demons 7 fold stronger might be am area that many might be dealing with, possibly from unworthy reception of the
    Sacraments , without intent to mend own ways to conform more to The Spirit of The Lord .

    Instead , persons might fall into the .mindset that doing things that are part of the external rituals of Church life, one can keep the 7 fold idols in life, of pride , greed and so on .

    Right after the mention of that fearful passage is the mention of the Lord’s Mother , coming to visit .
    Her prayers , along with that of St.Jude , Patron of such ‘impossible ‘ situations – may same help many to discern and be freed from such knots , to take in the truth of The Lord’s love for us each , from the moment of our origins and beyond , to be grateful and to let that gratitude to guide our lives ..

  • noelfitz

    This is a wonderfully inspiring and uplifting article, so I am grateful to Fr Dyer and CE for it.
    I did a Google search of ‘blessed virgin icons’ and got 282000 images, but icons are not devotional images, as they are much more.

  • Michael J. Lichens

    I’m glad you enjoyed it! I love icons, myself, so it’s something I get excited about. I do find them beautiful but, like you said, they are more than images and really have helped my prayer life. I have a particular devotion to Christ the Teacher as well as Our Lady of Czenstochowa.

  • noelfitz

    many thanks for your comment.
    I also like very much the icons of Christ.