Diocesan News

New shrine encourages trust, devotion

Our Lady, Undoer of Knots grotto at St. Peter School in Lincoln

Story by S.L. Hansen

(Related: Slideshow of images also available)


LINCOLN (SNR) - A new shrine dedicated to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots at St. Peter School in Lincoln is encouraging students, families, teachers and staff to entrust their difficulties to the prayers of the Blessed Mother.

The devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots was started more than three centuries ago when an unknown German artist painted a magnificent portrait of the Blessed Mother patiently unknotting a tangled ribbon. The original painting hangs at St. Peter Church in Perlack, Germany.

The image was based on a meditation of Saint Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, who was martyred in 202. Following Saint Paul’s comparison between Adam and Christ as the “New Adam,” Saint Irenaeus had taught, “Eve, by her disobedience, tied the knot of disgrace for the human race; whereas Mary, by her obedience, undid it.”

As devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, has grown, so has the understanding of what these knots represent: family discord, substance abuse, illness, misfortunes, fear, anger — anything that separates the faithful from God.

St. Peter School families were introduced to this devotion after the World Meeting of Families last autumn. Several School Sisters of Christ the King had visited the Our Lady, Undoer of Knots Grotto in front of the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.

It is a large grotto with prayer intentions on strips of cloth, knotted onto strings suspended from a wooden frame. Pope Francis, who has spoke of his own devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, came to see it when he was in Philadelphia, pausing to pray for all the intentions and bless the shrine.

Having witnessed the beauty and significance of the shrine themselves, the Sisters spoke about it briefly during a presentation at a St. Peter School Family Association meeting. That inspired parent Dennis Welsh to draw on his many years of woodworking to create a smaller shrine for his children’s school.

He sat down with his daughter Charlotte, a freshman at Pius X High School, to work out the design with all its mathematical calculations.

“The design itself is based on the Roman Pantheon,” Welsh explained. “The arch was the biggest challenge and required the most planning and design.”

Using some recycled and some purchased wood, Welsh built a jig to curve oak-plywood laminated ribs to give the shrine its shape.

His son Lucas, who is in the seventh grade at St. Peter School, helped cut the wood and joined his father and older sister in constructing the shrine, while third-grader Stephanie assisted in securing the pieces with bolts and screws. The two youngest also helped stain the wood a warm, rich hue.

The curving ribs are joined together in a rosewood disc at the top. Embedded in the center of that disc is a 3-D Marian symbol, a cross over a large letter M. LED lights illuminate this symbol, changing colors with a handy remote.

“I have three favorites,” said the school principal, Sister Mary Michael, C.K. “Dark blue for our Blessed mother, ‘Our Lady of Guadalupe blue,’ and red, which reminds me of Our Mother’s Son, and His Sacred Heart.”

“My favorite design feature was to realize that it would not fit inside [the doors of] the school,” Welsh admitted.

So, the shrine was built in two sections that would clear the doors. Final assembly was completed inside the school.

“It took several hours with the help from family friends — Jen, Shawn, John, and Clare Liliedahl — to finish the grotto,” Welsh said. “I would like to thank them and all others for their kind thoughts and prayers.”

“If you look closely at the structure, it is truly a work of art,” admired Sister Mary Michael. “The craftsmanship on the lines as well as the wood is something of which even St. Joseph would’ve been proud.”

After the shrine was completed with string running from rib to rib to receive prayer intentions, a statue of Our Lady was nestled inside. During Catholic Schools Week, children started writing out their needs on long strips of light-colored fabric and knotting them onto the strings. A simple novena was prayed every day.

“Knots are a kink in that which needs to be free,” Sister Mary Michael told parents on her blog when she announced the devotion. “Let’s put them in hands that can help, Our Lord’s through the intercession of His Mother.  In this Year of Mercy, let us recall, nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing is beyond His loving grasp.”

Though Catholic Schools Week is long over, the Shrine continues to receive more intentions. Any visitor can see the hearts of these students in their carefully written “knots.”

The children pray for ill or deceased loved ones. They pray for an end to abortion, the conversion of sinners, for the strengthening of Christians facing martyrdom abroad. They pray that they’ll get along with others or that they’ll grow in prayer. One child poignantly wrote one simple word: “Math.”

“Our Lady Undoer of Knots is getting a lot of business here,” Sister Mary Michael wrote. “It is a peaceful place to pause for a moment… May our Lady continue to undo the knots around and within us, particularly the knots that keep us from her Son.”

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