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Untier of Knots

Untier of Knots

History of the Devotion to Mary, Untier of Knots

– Richard Lenar

The story of the Devotion to Mary, Untier of Knots begins with the German nobleman Wolfgang Langenmantel (1568-1637). For some years, he had been married to the noblewoman Sophie Imoff, but by the year 1612 the couple was on the verge of a divorce. To save their marriage, Wolfgang decided to pay a visit to Father Jakob Rem, a Jesuit priest who lived at the monastery and university of Ingolstadt, located seventy kilometers north of Augsburg.

Over a period of 28 days, Wolfgang visited Father Rem four times and received advice from the holy priest, who was honored for his wisdom, piety and extraordinary intelligence. In fact, Father Rem was believed to have experienced an apparition of Mary in the course of which she appeared to him under the title of “Mother Thrice Admirable.”

During their meetings, Wolfgang and Father Rem would pray together and venerate the Virgin Mary. On the day of their last visit together, September 28th, 1615, Father Rem had been praying in the chapel of the monastery before an image of the Virgin Mary under the title of “Our Lady of the Snows.” When the two men met, Wolfgang gave his wedding ribbon to Father Rem. (In the marriage ceremony of that time and place, the maid of honor joined together the arms of the bride and groom with a ribbon in order to represent their invisible union for the rest of their lives.) In a solemn ritual act, Father Rem took Wolfgang’s wedding ribbon and lifted it up, while at the same time untying the knots of the ribbon one by one. As Father Rem smoothed out the ribbon, it became intensely white. Because of this happening, Wolfgang and Sophie were able to avoid a divorce and continue their marriage.

Some years later, Wolfgang’s grandson Hieronymus Ambrosius Langenmantel (Canon of St. Peter's 1666-1709), who was himself a priest and canon law doctor, decided to donate a family altar to the Church of St. Peter am Perlach in Augsburg in commemoration of the turn of the century in the year 1700. Such donations were a common tradition at the time. The altar piece was dedicated to “the Blessed Virgin of Good Counsel” and Father Hieronymus wanted it to represent the history of the Langenmantel family.

A painter, Johann Melchior Georg Schmittdner, was commissioned to provide a painting for the family altar. He decided to base his painting on the story of Wolfgang, Sophie and Father Rem. Therefore, Schmittdner depicts the Virgin Mary as she is untying the knots of the ribbon of married life. The crushing of the serpent illustrates that Mary is the Immaculate Conception, since she as the one exempt by special grace from all stain of original sin is the serpent’s eternal opponent. The dove is a reference to Mary as the Bride of the Holy Spirit. Angels assist the Blessed Mother; one presents the knots of our lives to her, while another angel presents the ribbon, freed from knots, to us. Underneath Mary, the worried noble Wolfgang, accompanied by the Archangel Raphael, walks towards a monastery.

Eventually, the story of the Langenmantel family disappeared from history. However, through the following centuries the painting remained as an antique in the Church of St. Peter am Perlach in Augsburg. For some years the painting was located in the Discalced Carmelite Convent of the same city of Augsburg. The painting, which has survived wars, revolutions and secular opposition, still adorns the St. Peter Church today.

Although the reference to Mary as one who unties knots goes back to St. Irenaeus in the second century, the devotion to Mary Untier of Knots was not well known until recently. In the 1980’s it was brought to Argentina by Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J. (now Pope Francis), where it remains particularly popular. The devotion has also spread through the efforts of Brother Mario H. Ibertis Rivera, according to whom the Vatican has authorized the use of the image for Vatican publishing.

Because of the spread of the devotion, thousands of followers of the Virgin Mary Untier of Knots now come to the St. Peter am Perlach Church to ask for her intercession regarding all their problems (knots). Besides marriage difficulties, these so-called knots include a range of other problems of unusual diversity. People come to Mary for assistance regarding health, work, disputes, family complications, personal problems, and conflicts both in the community and internationally. Many government officials, business people, Catholic groups and individual pilgrims have already placed themselves under the protection of the Virgin Mary Untier of Knots.

Image shown: Johann Melchior Georg Schmittdner, c. 1700


Historical timeline from the website of St. Peter am Perlach Church:

Historical research by Brother Mario H. Ibertis Rivera, International Fraternity of Mary Untier of Knots:

Information on Wolfgang Langenmantel:

Ball, Ann. Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003, 287-288

Novena to Our Lady Undoer of Knots:

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