Photograph courtesy Joanne Salsano
Pope Francis has a favorite painting: “Mary, Undoer of Knots”. Painted by an anonymous artist, the painting currently sits in the Church of St. Peter in Perlack, Germany. In anticipation for the visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia, Meg Saliman was commissioned to come up with an artistic work in other of “Mary, Undoer of Knots” that would sit prominently in Philadelphia.
A website devoted to the painting describes the meaning of the painting:
They are the problems and struggles we face for which we do not see any solution. Knots of discord in your family, lack of understanding between parents and children, disrespect, violence, the knots of deep hurts between husband and wife, the absence of peace and joy at home. They are also the knots of anguish and despair of separated couples, the dissolution of the family, the knots of a drug addict son or daughter, sick or separated from home or God, knots of alcoholism, the practice of abortion, depression, unemployment, fear, solitude…Ah, the knots of our life! How they suffocate the soul, beat us down and betray the heart’s joy and separate us from God.
In an interview with NPR, the self-described “public artist” Saliman described her approach to the painting:
What if we reinterpret the painting? How can we make this meaningful? We’re including all face, all ethnicities.
Thus, the Knotted Grotto was born. Saliman traveled around those who might be considered the “least” among us: the homeless, as well as those in various churches and even online, gathering the people’s prayer intentions. The intentions were written on a white ribbon and tied to the grotto. Saliman saw this as an opportunity to bring everyone together, as she said during her inteview on NPR:
“People have expressed a desire for inclusivity of all so that none are marginalized. And it’s also issues of homelessness and hunger, struggle, issues of race and immigration.”
The Knotted Grotto is located on the northern courtyard of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. Pilgrims can write their own intention to add to the collection, while taking one of the intentions tied to the fence and bringing it into the grotto to offer a prayer on behalf of the stranger who wrote the intention.
Jennifer Rosenthal works as a nurse at Pennsylvania hospital and walked a good distance to take in the Knotted Grotto on Thursday. Rosenthal was inspired and shared her picture of the the grotto on her Facebook an Instagram accounts with the following words:
“SO beautiful SO humbling SO thankful I got to experience this #knottedgrotto”
Rosenthal reflected on the experience:
“I went because [Pope Francis] is an amazing man with a beautiful message and just once it was awesome to see this city come together in such a peaceful and amazing way. I’m so glad I walked the 20 blocks from work to get there. It’s something I will never forget”
Gina Guarnere of Bellmawr, New Jersey, visited the grotto Wednesday with her six year-old son, Vince, and newborn son, Nate. While Nathan is too young to participate, Guarnere saw the grotto as a wonderful opportunity for Vince.
“I wanted Vince to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime event, so we braved the crowds and added our intention ribbons to the ever-growing thousands,” said Guarnere. “It felt really special to see our prayers added to the cascade at Our Lady’s feet. It was a great visual for Vince, who now understands what it is to unite his prayers with others who also need prayers.”
The grotto should continue to attract attention, particularly as tens of thousands head to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the Festival of Families Saturday and the Papal Mass on Saturday. The Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul is located at 17th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, very accessible on foot for those attending the Festival of Families and Mass.