Prayer to Our Lady of Knots

I want to begin this piece with the caveat that it is not at all an academic essay on Mary, or even a comprehensive guide. It is however, a collection of some of my thoughts and reflections on a subject which is both close to my heart and central to that of the Catholic church. There are thousands of years of important Theology about Mary, which continue today, and which readers can refer to at their leisure. I would also signpost readers to an earlier blog from a Women in Theology contributor, Elizabeth, back in 2010 whose reflection on this subject and can be found here.

Last week on 11th September the Catholic church celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. This holy day celebrates the occasions when a young girl called Bernadette Soubirous, now Saint Bernadette, was visited by the Virgin Mary next to a river in the French town of Lourdes. The visitations were in the form of a beautiful young woman appearing to Bernadette and took place eighteen times throughout the year of 1858. At first the young girl didn’t appear to understand the significance of these visitations but happily followed Our Lady’s instructions. Bernadette was to go to the local priest and ask him to build a church at the site of the visitations and invite people to drink from the water which had miraculously sprung from beneath Mary’s feet. A church was built on the spot, with other, more grand buildings, following over time. Even though the apparition of Our Lady never stated that the water would heal, it appears that thousands of people have taken the water and have been miraculously healed, with no other explanation than the intervention of something supernatural. The Catholic Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862 and for millions of Catholics this very spot in Lourdes has become a special place of pilgrimage, visited all year round by people hoping to be healed by the waters, and to have their own personal encounter with our Lady.

The occurrence of this feast day reminded me of the various manifestations of the Virgin Mary to which Catholics pray and indeed to which a whole field of Theology – Mariology – has been dedicated. I wanted to share some background and insight into Mary, her special dedications and indeed, her Theology.

As a Catholic I mistakenly take for granted that people know who I am referring to when I mention ‘our lady’, ‘Mary’, ‘the Holy Mother’, and that she is as central to their faith as she is to mine, and millions of other Catholics across the globe. In Theology when we talk of ‘Marian tradition’ we are referring to how Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, is referred to through history and scripture, by the church, theologians and the faithful. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this tradition has gone in and out of fashion in Catholic parlance, and probably over the last 30 years has seen a resurgence of interest, particularly amongst Catholic women. These women see Mary’s significance in their history and want to study her and venerate her in her own right, as opposed to Mary having a significance due solely to her relation to the men in her story. She is discussed widely amongst feminist theologians and her symbolism and significance in terms of her role, her gender and her scriptural history is part of ongoing debate. Mary is an interesting character when looked at through a feminist theological lens and she appears to divide opinion on her role and significance in Theology. There are some who feel that Mary is put on a pedestal, representing purity, virginity and (for most Catholic women) unobtainable ‘virtues’. On the other hand, some argue that Mary should be seen as a potential ally for women in Christianity and that her humanity, her closeness to the Divine and her representation of the poor enable the silenced voices and underrepresented sections of the church to have a voice. Mary is seen as an important figure in the church’s tradition who can encompasses humanity, divinity, compassion, healing and who opens conduits of communication with God for millions of Catholics.

For centuries, Theologians have agreed that Mary is an important voice for many who feel marginalised and her role in the gospels often represents those people without a voice, those who are poor, troubled, and pushed to the edges. It is Mary who we see as the last one who stood at her son’s crucifixion, and it is Mary who appears to people in difficult circumstances throughout history to offer healing. Her humanity is tangible, and it is this, in relation to Jesus, which is also so vital in Theology, particularly when talking about incarnation. Mary carried in her womb and gave birth to a very human Jesus and is a reminder of his humanity alongside his divinity. Theologian Tina Beattie has written at length about Mary, and in a wonderful early essay Tina explains that “Mary’s humanity is as necessary to the incarnation as God’s divinity. When we lose sight of Mary, God’s son is not human. Mary embodies Christ in the world…” [1]

It is with this gravity that Catholics pray to our Lady, the mother of God, and also to the other manifestations of her figure which throughout generations have come to mark occasions, places, people, and events. In medieval times, Mary manifested in titles such as ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe’, ‘Our lady of Perpetual Health’, ‘Our Lady of Walsingham’, ‘Our Lady Star of the Sea’, and the very intriguing ‘Our Lady with the Poovan Bananas’[2]. Catholics often pray to ‘Our Lady of Charity’, ‘Our Lady of the Rosary’, ‘Our Lady of Providence’, ‘Of Palestine’, ‘Of Lebanon’, ‘Of Fatima’, and many more. There are hundreds of titles, and they all have their own specific purpose and history. They bring comfort to millions of those who pray to them in with certain needs.

One title of Mary which I came across recently and had never heard of in my whole Catholic life (with a Grandmother who had a Mary to pray to for every occasion!) is that of ‘Our Lady of Knots’/ ‘Our Lady, Untier of Knots’. However, it is maybe not that unsurprising that I had not come across her before as she appears to have been brought into the limelight by our current Pope, who back in the 1980s when he was just plain old Dr Jorge Mario Bergolio SJ, returned from his doctoral studies in Germany with a particular fondness for this Marian devotion. He came across her painting in a church is Augsburg and was so struck by the symbolism that he took postcards of her back to his home and would even include copies of this image in every letter he sent out. The college in Buenos Aires, where Bergolio was posted, were so equally struck that they had a larger copy of the image made and the devotion began to spread across Latin America. The story of this particular devotion comes from the story of a German nobleman in the sixteenth century who was distraught when his wife came to him to ask for a divorce. (If anyone knows the reason behind this – it would be interesting to know… answers on a postcard… of Our Lady of Knots maybe.) Anyway, said nobleman was not happy and went to speak to his local priest who ceremonially joined the hands of him and his wife with their wedding ribbon, raised their tied hands before an image of Our Lady and then untied the knots one by one. As the ribbon was smoothed out it became a dazzling white and it was taken as a sign that his prayers had been heard and they remained married. Some would question whether this was a happy ending or not depending on why the original divorce was sought but either way, Our Lady of Knots has come to represent all the knots of life; our struggles, our pain, our despair are all represented by knots which can, through prayer to this devotion be untied and our hearts comforted. A common prayer to Our Lady of Knots which often accompanies a copy of the original image is-

Holy Mary, full of God’s presence during the days of your life, you accepted with full humility the Father’s will, and the Devil was never capable to tie you around with his confusion. Once with your son you interceded for our difficulties, and, full of kindness and patience you gave us example of how to untie the knots of our life. And by remaining forever Our Mother, you put in order, and make clearer the ties that link us to the Lord. Holy Mother, Mother of God, and our Mother, to you, who untie with motherly heart the knots of our life, we pray to you to receive in your hands [name of person], and to free him/her of the knots and confusion with which our enemy attacks. Through your grace, your intercession, and your example, deliver us from all evil, Our Lady, and untie the knots that prevent us from being united with God, so that we, free from sin and error, may find Him in all things, may have our hearts placed in Him, and may serve Him always in our brothers and sisters. Amen.[3]

The imagery of praying to this devotion is appealing to me as life is full of the knotty problems in which we find ourselves. We often seek help in these circumstances and seek guidance when we see no way out of a tangled situation. I can understand why Pope Francis was drawn to this beautiful image of Mary, as untier of knots, and why he would seek comfort in her. The symbolism is powerful and is similar to that of other devotions to Our Lady where she appears as a comforter, an empath, someone to whom, those who pray to her can relate and who feel that she is with them in a very real sense.

In Marian theology, much is written about the comforting and mothering image of Mary and Christians are taught that she is the Mother of God and mother of us all. Anyone who is a mother knows the visceral instincts which you have between yourself and your child and how you deeply feel their joy and their pain and the bonds which tie you together feel unbreakable. This is how Mary sees us and we can be comforted to know that a deep, prayerful and very unique relationship with the mother of God is not out of our reach. For Catholics, Mary is our advocate in whichever way we pray to her and in whichever form she takes. There are thousands of years of history and theology which discuss her role, her significance in the church, the significance of her gender and her relationship with her son. But for now, we can leave that to the scholars and know that Our Lady, Our Mother, Our comfort and our guide is listening and waiting with open arms and non-judgemental, unconditional, pure love. In whatever manifestation we pray to Our Holy Mother we are afforded a channel of communication with the divine, which is unique, and in turn empowers us to live out her virtues of compassion, welcoming, helping and healing in our everyday lives.

Cover picture credit https://www.greencremationtexas.com/our-lady-of-the-rosary/


[1] Beattie T, ‘Woman full and overflowing with grace, The Virgin Mary and the contemporary Church.’ www.theway.org.uk

[2] The main story was that a pilgrim from Meloor near Koratty was carrying a bunch of a special variety of plantain fruit, namely ‘Poovan Bananas’, as an offering to the Koratty Muthy. On the way, he had to pass through a paddy field where a hungry man was sitting. On seeing the basket of bananas, he asked the pilgrim to hand him two bananas. The pilgrim refused, explaining that it was an offering to be placed before the Koratty Mutthy. But he forcibly took out two bananas from the basket and ate them. As soon as he had eaten the bananas, the man started writhing with intense pain in his stomach. Medicines could not cure the pain and the landlord realized that it had been some divine intervention; he immediately gave away a golden statue of banana as an offering to the Koratty Muthy. The moment he did this, the pain subsided. Since that day, pilgrims come from all over Kerala with bananas as an offering to the Koratty Muthy. Now ‘Poovankula’ is also the Virgin Mary shrine as Korattymuthy.www.wikipeia.com

[3]Taken from an article on https://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/20130521_1.htm

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