Knots in Mary's Garments

– Answered by Father Johann Roten, S.M.

Q: Is there any significance to the knots in Mary's garments?

A: A representation of the Virgin in the Temple (according to apocryphal writings Mary spent her childhood from age 2 - 12 in the temple) may be of relevance to your question. The medieval representation of this type shows Mary wearing a sash (girdle, belt) whose both ends are knotted in such a way that they are hanging loose and low. The sash is a typical attribute of the virgin in the temple and symbolizes Mary's chastity and virginal and exclusive dedication to God later on. The sash is sometimes the attribute of the Immaculata.

In a different pictorial theme, the so called Madonna della cintola (Madonna of the sash), St. Thomas receives the Virgin's sash as proof of her corporeal assumption into heaven. If the sash knotted in front represents a special attribute of her virginity, it has also been used to visualize her maternity as can be seen in the famous Guadalupe image. The black knotted sash identifies Mary as a future mother. According to sources of antiquity (Plinius, 23-79) the knot suggests pregnancy and subsequent delivery.

To have knots in one's garment keeps danger at bay. Knotting and untying are faculties of the divinity (master of human destiny) and also of Christ (he freed himself from all earthly "attachments" and bonds). There are customs according to which the robes of the fiancés are knotted together to suggest a common destiny. There are some representations of the Virgin Mary showing her with the cord of monks and nuns. The end of the cord has three knots to symbolize the three evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. However, the most likely meaning of cord, sash and knots therein (in Marian representations) is that of both virginity and motherhood as a consequence of God himself tying and untying the knot of Mary's dedication of herself to him.

There is a piece on our website which deals with Our Lady with a cord full of knots. She is the one who unties these knots, more specifically the "knot of Eve's disobedience" by becoming the obedient "servant of the Lord." This knot doesn't have anything to do with the garment of Mary, but may be of interest.

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