This post originally appeared at the National Catholic Register.
How Our Lady, Undoer of Knots Inspired Papal Pretzels in Philly
It all started with a pretzel. Or was it a book?
Perhaps the Blessed Mother — under the title of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots — can help me straighten this story out.
I first learned about the 17th-century devotion to Maria Knötenloserin — Mary, Untier (or Undoer) of Knots — shortly after Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio became Pope Francis. He told of his own devotion to Mary under this title, which he discovered during the time he spent in Germany in the 1980s. There, he first encountered the image of Mary, carefully undoing a series of knots in a blue ribbon, surrounded by angels and crushing the head of a serpent.
Unlike many devotions to the Blessed Virgin, this one doesn’t come from an apparition, but from the words of a saint: St. Irenaeus of Lyons once wrote, “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.”
This quote inspired Johann Schmidtner to paint the image that now resides in the Church of St. Peter am Perlach in Bavaria, Germany, and which continues to inspire our Papa. It is this image that gives hope to many who look to the Blessed Mother for her intercessory prayer, trusting that her advocacy for us in heaven is a continuation of her ability to undo the toughest of knots created by our own sins and difficulties.
During my visit to the Holy Land in May 2014 to film Pope Francis’ pilgrimage for our upcoming special, A Papal Pilgrimage in the Holy Land, some friends and I prayed a novena to Mary, Undoer of Knots. We prayed that the Pope’s visit might help undo some of the many knots preventing peace in that sacred land. Later, my friend Marge Fenelon (a Register contributor), who was also in the Holy Land during that time, wrote Our Lady, Undoer of Knots: Living the Novena in the Holy Land(Ave Maria Press, September 2015), applying this novena to praying for peace in the Holy Land. I read an advance copy of Marge’s book because I was asked to write its foreword.
Shortly after I’d read the book, I met with some of the History Making Productions team at Philadelphia’s Jefferson Station to plan a shoot for one of a short series of webisodes we are creating in anticipation of the World Meeting of Families, which is coming to Philadelphia this September. The webisodes will feature a few of Philadelphia’s many sacred sites and include some touristy fun. On this day, the fun was of the foodie variety — my favorite! — Philadelphia-style pretzels, courtesy of the Philly Pretzel Factory.
As we planned the next day’s shoot, I spoke with Ron Heil and Tommy Guest, owners of seven Philly Pretzel Factory franchises in Center City. I asked them if they’d be creating a product tie-in for the World Meeting of Families. Ron said no, as they didn’t want to seem like they were trying to capitalize off of such an important event.
God love him!
“What?!” I exclaimed. “You have to! I have the perfect idea for you!”
And I did. It came to me suddenly, like something inspired by the Holy Spirit. I know. You’re thinking, “What does the Holy Spirit care about pretzels?!” I would think the same thing, if he hadn’t been giving me ideas for The Faithful Traveler for years already! Let me tell you something: I’m not this creative by half, so it had to be him. As I’ve said many times before: The Holy Spirit is the best executive producer around, with the best ideas!
I suggested to Ron and Tommy that they create a pretzel in the shape of a knot, in honor of Pope Francis’ devotion to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. It would be a stealthy ode to the Blessed Mother, Catholic but not so Catholic that it would scare non-Catholics away. After all, pretzels in the shape of knots are not a new thing. Allpretzels are in the shape of some kind of knot. These knots are just a little tighter.
Ron and Tommy loved the idea and promised that the pretzels would be there the next day, ready for the shoot.
They were, and they were perfect.
That day, I nailed a short spot about the special pretzel, dedicated to the Pope and his devotion to the Blessed Mother.
When you come to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, be sure to visit a Philly Pretzel Factory in Center City (that’s downtown) and ask for the knot pretzel. Offer up a prayer to the Blessed Mother for whatever knots need undoing — whether they be for yourself, for the Pope, for the city of Philadelphia and everyone who comes to this exciting event or for the world.
For the record: I like mine with cheese.
For the gluten challenged — or dairy lovers, like me — check out Milkhouse at Philadelphia’s historic Suburban Station. (There’s a Philly Pretzel Factory right across the walkway.) Also owned by the enterprising pretzel team, Milkhouse was created to give Ron and Shannon Heil’s gluten-intolerant son a place to feel at home. At Milkhouse, locally sourced comfort food is the order of the day, with a variety of grilled cheeses — all can be made with gluten-free bread — milkshakes, soups, hand-cut french fries and even breakfast.
During the World Meeting of Families, Milkhouse will be serving — in the Pope’s honor — an Argentinian sandwich: the grilled cheese de Migas! Migas means crumbs in Spanish, and the sandwich is Argentina’s version of tea sandwiches: The Milkhouse version will feature ham, cheese, tomato and a fried egg on bread without crusts. I tried it on another shoot — along with the grilled pound cake and lemon ice cream! It was, in a word, amazing.