Article – Jenny Ponzo and Gabriele Marino, “Modelizing epistemologies: organizing Catholic sanctity from calendar-based martyrologies to today’s mobile apps” (Semiotica 2021)

J. Ponzo and G. Marino, Modelizing epistemologies: organizing Catholic sanctity from calendar-based martyrologies to today’s mobile apps, in Semiotica, vol. , no. , 2021. (link)


The Catholic concept of “sanctity” can be thought of as a “cultural unit” (Eco) composed of a wide variety of “grounds” (Peirce) or distinctive features. The figures of individual saints, i.e., tokens of sanctity, are characterized by a particular set of grounds, organized and represented in texts of different genres. This paper presents a semiotic study of texts seeking to offer an encompassing view of “sanctity” by listing all the saints and supplementing their names with a short description of their lives emphasizing the grounds characterizing each of them. The analysis focuses on a seminal liturgical text, the Martyrologium Romanum (1584–2004), and the first official encyclopedia of saints, the Bibliotheca Sanctorum (1961–2013), as well as a sample of digital texts and media such as websites and mobile apps. While the first text offers a dogmatic perspective on sanctity and saintly figures and the second offers a historical and culturological one, websites succeed in reconciling the two paradigms into a single syncretic form of interactive fruition in which the more up-to-date encyclopedic model subsumes the traditional calendar one and, in the case of apps, adds a glocal dimension, enhancing situated cognition. The analysis shows that the introduction of the encyclopedic genre and subsequent proliferation of digital repertoires is connected to a shift in the Catholic “episteme” (Foucault) of sanctity and a growing tendency to consider saints as not (only) religious characters and objects of cult, but (also) as historical individuals and components of a culture and, consequently, as suitable objects of critical discourse.

What is NeMoSanctI?


NeMoSanctI is a research project carried out at the University of Turin. It studies how models of sanctity have changed after the Second Vatican Council. To this end, it applies a pioneering methodology based on semiotic theory to a wide corpus of normative, judicial, and narrative texts.

This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 757314).