A Match Made in Heaven

It’s not often that an artist and a composer meet at a Bar Mitzvah,  and the result is a song destined to greet thousands of cathedral visitors during a papal visit.

But when artist Meg Saligman described her vision for a collaborative art installation at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia,  Betsy Alexander could almost hear the musical accompaniment playing in her head.

The result was “Help Us Mary”,  her hauntingly beautiful complement to Saligman’s  Knotted Grotto.


We first introduced you to Betsy Alexander this summer, when we toured the fabulous home she shares with her artist husband Burnell Yow! and a phalanx of cats, including internationally celebrated Nora the Piano Cat.

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A passionate gardener,  art collector,  and member of the exuberant band of found-object artists known as the Philadelphia Dumpster Divers,  Betsy is also a piano and guitar teacher,  composer and voice coach.

And, yes, that fateful meeting with Meg occurred at the Bar Mitzvah for one of Betsy’s music students.


Open until October 4,  Saligman’s grotto – made in honor of Pope Francis’ visit – is a round,  20-foot wide cedar framework nestled beside Philadelphia’s cathedral.  Visitors write their personal struggles on a strip of cloth,  which they then knot to the grotto frame…

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They are also invited to untie a knot for someone else,  symbolizing their intention to help relieve another’s burden…

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The project was inspired by “Mary, Undoer of Knots”,  one of Pope Francis’ favorite paintings,  which symbolizes help in loosening our struggles…

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Over 100,000 handwritten strips now hang on or around the grotto,  and they include intentions collected around the city or submitted online by people who couldn’t attend last week’s events…

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When the words and music for “Help Us Mary” flowed into being,  Betsy never imagined that they would be sung at the grotto’s opening – or that they’d be played daily near the “Mary, Undoer of Knots” painting that greets visitors on the cathedral wall.

And, yes, you can hear Betsy’s haunting song performed on a beautiful video,  crafted in time for the Pope’s visit by Burnell Yow!,  her multi-talented,  artist husband.  (And, yes, rumor has it that,  after a few intense all-night sessions,  Burnell was ready to knot a few strips to the grotto himself…)


The Knotted Grotto project has been extended through Oct. 4.  You can learn more by visiting the Mercy and Justice website or Meg Saligman’s Facebook page.

And, if you’d like to incorporate “Help Us Mary” into your own service or event,  contact Betsy at her new website,  Betsy’s Wonderful Things,  where you can also sample her other music.

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You never know where a little collaboration might lead…