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A Look Into the Pope’s Most Favorite Painting

The Pope is especially drawn to Mary Undoer of Knots — a devotion that started from a simple postcard!

While the devotion of Pope Francis to Mama Mary is common knowledge to us, there is one image of the Blessed Mother that he is especially fond of—the image of Mary Undoer of Knots, which is housed in the Church of St. Peter am Perlach in Augsburg, Germany.

In an interview with German newspaper Die Zeit, Lolo Kiko relates the story of how he fell in love with the Marian image. Contrary to popular belief, the Pope has never been to Augsburg. So how did he see and eventually fall in love with the image? 

“The story is this: a religious woman, whom I knew well enough, sent me a greeting for Christmas. It is a postcard with a painting of the image of the Madonna,” says Pope Francis. (Read: Meet the 4 Madonnas in Lolo Kiko’s Life)

“I saw [the painting], I was impressed, and I became interested. Do you want to know why?” He adds, “This is certainly not a great picture. On the contrary, it is a poor, mediocre baroque.” But what caught his attention was the white ribbon with all those knots that Mary holds in her hand. It traces the meaning of the painting. 

Mary Undoer of Knots

Photo from World Priest

The story behind the painting itself is fascinating as well. Baroque painter Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner was inspired by a passage from St. Irenaeus of Lyons’ Against Heresies: “[T]hus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.” 

Pope Francis eagerly relates the story, “The donor of the painting had serious difficulties with his wife. Of course, the couple loved each other. But something was wrong. So, he decided to seek advice from a Jesuit priest.” The husband and wife were German nobleman Wolfgang Langenmantel and Sophie Imhoff. The Jesuit priest was Jakob Rem. 

Miracle of Mary

Photo from Freepik

To ask for grace, the three agreed to meet in front of the altar of the Virgin in Augsburg. They would pray for the reconciliation of the couple. On the last day of their novena, Wolfgang brought their wedding ribbon—a symbol of the couple’s unity. Fr. Rem lifted the ribbon, which was said to have three knots on it, to an image of Our Lady of Snows, and asked Mary if she could untie the knots of Wolfgang’s marriage. The ribbon then loosened, became completely untied, and turned into an extremely white color, as if it was brand new. (Read: St. Padre Pio’s Prayers for Healing and Miracles)

Not many details were given after the event but Wolfgang and Sophie reconciled after this. Years later, the couple’s grandson, Hieronymus, became a priest. He, then, commissioned Schmidtner to paint the picture in memory of the story and to thank Mary for saving the marriage of his grandparents. The devotion has spread, but the image has yet to be popular for at least two hundred years. 

The Pope’s Marian Devotion

In The World. A replica of the original painting can be found in the Argentine sanctuary of San José del Talar. (Photos from Getty Images)

Only in the 20th century did the Marian image leave Europe and arrive in Latin America. Thanks to Pope Francis’ devotion, Mary Undoer of Knots became very famous. Before he was the Santo Papa, Fr. Bergoglio distributed images of the painting to priests in Buenos Aires. (Read: The Pope’s Employment History)

In 1996, the parish priest of San Jose del Talar dedicated an altar to this particular image of Mama Mary. The church is now known as “Santuario de la Virgen que desata nudos,” where every 8th of the month, hundreds of pilgrims gather to celebrate the Virgin Mary. 

In 2011, Fr. Bergoglio celebrated Mass in San Jose and reaffirmed in his homily the importance of trusting Mary with confidence. 

His Favorite Painting

The Pope brought a reproduction that hangs in this room. We see her while the Pope speaks with politician Cristina Kirchner and Il Mio Papa director Aldo Vitali. (Photos from Vatican Media)

Indeed, Lolo Kiko’s fondness for Mary Undoer of Knots is love at first sight. He venerates her, speaks of her during his general audiences, and mentions her in greetings to young spouses. In fact, he has a picture of her near the chapel of Casa Santa Marta, where he often stops and prays—several times a day! (Read: Where does Pope Francis pray?)

The image of Mary Undoer of Knots appears on a 50 euro coin issued by the Vatican Philatelic and Numismatic Office. 


Text by Cecilia Seppia and Yen Cantiga.

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