Beneath Thy Protection: Portrait of the Holy Virgin as a semantic operator


  • Francesco Galofaro IULM University of Milan



typology, culture, semiosphere, religion, cybernetics, quantum semantics


Starting from the third century, many songs, prayers, and icons testify to the way the Virgin Mary – Mother of God – has been attributed the role of protecting the community. Examples include the Akhathist hymn traditionally dated to the siege of Constantinople (626), the Polish anthem “Bogurodzica”, associated with the battle of Grunwald (1410), the icon of Częstochowa that protected Poland from the Swedish invasion (1655), and numerous others. The role of menace is embodied by different enemies: infidels, heretics, or atheists. The Virgin watches over the frontier between two cultural spaces: the inside and the outside of the semiosphere. A case study will provide insight into the function played by the Madonna at the border: the Madonna of the Rocciamelone, the highest sanctuary in Europe, founded by the crusader knight Rotharius (1358). A bronze statue of the Virgin was placed in the sanctuary in 1899. A small corpus of pastoral letters written by blessed Edoardo Rosaz, bishop of Susa (Piedmont), expresses the hope that the Virgin will protect Catholics from liberal heresy. Plastic oppositions such as top/bottom, resulting from the relationship between the Virgin and the landscape, are used to manifest abstract oppositions such as reason/passion, order/disorder, and Church/revolution. This homologation helps us understand how the Virgin, placed in upper space, embodies knowledge and cognition: she becomes a lookout, allowing a transfer of values from the semantic field of war to the religious one. The Virgin guards the border of the semiosphere, the border dividing the self from the other. Her function is the semiotization of incoming materials, transforming external non-communication into information and meaning. This article thus considers the Virgin as a semantic operator inverting the values of liberal discourse into information stored in Catholic cultural space. A mathematical model of the function played by the Virgin will be presented in the terms of quantum computing.


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How to Cite

Galofaro, F. (2023). Beneath Thy Protection: Portrait of the Holy Virgin as a semantic operator. Sign Systems Studies, 51(2), 376–397.