Pope Francis Blesses Street Art in Philadelphia

The artist asked people to share their personal trials on a strip of fabric.

Part of Meg Saligman's Mary, Undoer of Knots Grotto and a copy of the original painting that inspired it. Photo: Sarah Webb, Catholic Philly.
Part of Meg Saligman's Mary, Undoer of Knots Grotto and a copy of the original painting that inspired it. Photo: Sarah Webb, Catholic Philly.
Pope Francis stops to bless Meg Saligman's <em>Mary, Undoer of Knots Grotto</em>. Photo: Mercy & Justice in Philadelphia.

Pope Francis stops to bless Meg Saligman’s Mary, Undoer of Knots Grotto.
Photo: Mercy & Justice in Philadelphia.

As Pope Francis concluded his historic visit to the US, he stopped to bless a massive public art installation inspired by one of his favorite paintings, Mary, Undoer of Knots.

The original painting shows the Virgin Mary untangling a ribbon, symbolizing her ability to help relieve problems. It was created by Johann Georg Melchior Schmidtner around 1700, and hangs in a German church near where the Pope studied in the 1980s.

For her reinterpretation, artist Meg Saligman asked people to share their personal trials by writing their struggles on a strip of fabric and tying it in a knot on the sculpture.

“You come, you tie your knot, you undo the knot of someone else, and you weave it into our grotto,” Saligman told the Columbus Dispatch.

Part of Meg Saligman's <em>Mary, Undoer of Knots Grotto</em> and a copy of the original painting that inspired it. Photo: Sarah Webb, Catholic Philly.

Part of Meg Saligman’s Mary, Undoer of Knots Grotto and a copy of the original painting that inspired it.
Photo: Sarah Webb, Catholic Philly.

The piece, located outside the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in downtown Philadelphia, where Pope Francis said mass, includes a 20-foot-tall dome, woven from strips of cedar.

The project was commissioned by homeless advocacy group Project Home to help welcome Pope Francis, and grew from 30,000 knots to 110,000 knots over the course of the World Meeting of Families.

“We’re just so humbled,” Project Home founder Sister Mary Scullion told Talking Points Memo. “To see that Pope Francis came here and said a prayer, a beautiful prayer, and blessed it, will give comfort and consolation to a lot of people.”

Other artistic encounters during the Pope’s US trip included a Spencer Finch work at the 9/11 Museum, and Norman Rockwell‘s Golden Rule, which set the backdrop for a meeting at the UN with secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

Pope Francis at the official presentation of the Apostles Edition of the Saint John's Bible to the Library of Congress. Photo: Saint John's Abbey and University.

Pope Francis at the official presentation of the Apostles Edition of the Saint John’s Bible to the Library of Congress.
Photo: Saint John’s Abbey and University.

Pope Francis was also on hand as Saint John’s Abbey in Minnesota presented the Library of Congress with an Apostles Edition of the St. John’s Bible.

The original handwritten and illuminated manuscript, which was completed in 2011, is thought to be the first commissioned by a monastery since the printing press was invented in 1440. It is 1,130 pages long, and reportedly cost $8 million to create (scribe labor is apparently not cheap). The price tag for the Apostles Edition, of which 12 copies have been produced, is presumably lower.

The Vatican received its own copy of the St. John’s Bible in April, but the Library of Congress was given its own set, contrary to some media reports.

“I know he’s a man of simplicity,” Mark Dimunation, the chief of the Library of Congress’s rare Book and special collections division, told WTOP, “but [Pope Francis] did not re-gift his copy.”

The St. John’s Bible is on view at the Library of Congress in the Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building, at 10 First St., SE, Washington, DC, September 26, 2015–January 2, 2016.


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