Mary, Untier of Knots

Published on 07 Nov 2018
A woman wearing a fine necklace with a heart pendant
Amanda Bradley reflects on how her devotion to Our Lady Untier of Knots has helped her give Catholic insights to her students and much more. 

Readers may be familiar with the beautiful Baroque work of this name, painted in 1700 by the Bavarian artist, Schmidtner and inspired by the Jesuit Father Jacob Rem. Father Rem had been asked for help to save a marriage on the rocks. He prayed to the Virgin Mary and said,” I raise the bonds of matrimony, to untie all knots and smoothen them", and the couple in question rebuilt their loving relationship.

Pope Francis saw the painting as a student, brought a postcard of it back and promoted its veneration all over his native continent.

Our Lady surrounded by angels, untying knots in a thread

As for me, a copy of the work was on a Catholic calendar. I particularly liked it, cut it out and kept it and often look at it.

Untying knots must, to be sure, relate to most people’s lives. Figuratively speaking, I, like anyone else, have knots in most aspects of my life. But, into the bargain, I recently got some real knots to untie, and here is the story:

I teach a Fashion course in English at a women’s university in Kyoto. In one of the classes, the students were describing accessories and telling their stories. Maya, with a touch of melancholy, pulled from her purse a diminutive diamond heart attached to the finest of fine platinum chains… completely tangled up. At the end of the class, I asked her if she would trust me with it and I’d try to untangle it during my commutes.

I whiled away hours on the train, attempting to unravel the chain, but to no avail. On the last day, I showed the tangle to my colleague, Mami… Dr. X of Tokyo University (!) and she begged me to leave it with her. By morning break, it was in my box, untangled, meticulously wrapped in tissue and stapled to ensure it did not get its way again.

The university is very strict about confidentiality and it seemed impossible to contact Maya now the course was over.

On the first day of the new term, however, I went to check my appearance before class, and of all places on the immense campus, Maya was there too, and ecstatic as her friend, with fairy’s fingers, attached the tiny clasp of the chain around Maya’s neck.

“May I enroll for your Early education course?”, Maya asked. A senior psychology major and superlative student, Maya is a gift to our ongoing class.

As for the untying of knots, my colleague Mami and I are very different in culture, background, personality, political views, and how we teach, yet we come together in a wonderfully complementary way.

It goes without saying that returning students strengthen bonds with peers and teachers.

The university is a Pure Land Buddhist faith school and the students receive religious education. They have a reputation nation-wide for diligence and good manners, and that is true. They are always curious about other religions, and especially about Catholicism. In other words, in this positive way, they are daughters of these times.

I have been much encouraged by the inter-faith work of a Xaverian priest and Heythrop graduate here. Not only do I take part in his activities but also, in the way I see fit, I share Catholic insights with my students. The untying of the chain was the perfect opportunity to also share Schmidtner’s “Mary” in the university class.

While always in an agreeable state of flow when teaching, there are other less uplifting times, especially those concerning the administration. Then my self-esteem is jolted, and I fear for my job, my future and life. 

But Mother Mary, God and Saint Ignatius are above, untying my knots and those of all who are aware of it.

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