Alma mater (Latin: alma "nourishing/kind", mater "mother"; pl. [rarely
used] almae matres) is an allegorical
Latin phrase for a university or
college. In English, this is largely a U.S. usage referring to a
school or university from which an individual has graduated or to a
song or hymn associated with a school. The phrase is variously
translated as "nourishing mother", "nursing mother", or "fostering
mother", suggesting that a school provides intellectual nourishment to
its students. Fine arts will often depict educational institutions
using a robed woman as a visual metaphor.
Before its current usage,
Alma mater was an honorific title for
Latin mother goddesses, especially Ceres or Cybele, and
later in Catholicism for the Virgin Mary. It entered academic usage
University of Bologna adopted the motto Alma Mater Studiorum
("nurturing mother of studies"), which describes its heritage as the
oldest operating university in the Western world. It is related to
alumnus, a term used for a university graduate that literally means a
"nursling" or "one who is nourished".
5 External links
John Legate's Alma Mater for Cambridge in 1600
Although alma (nourishing) was a common epithet for Ceres, Cybele,
Venus, and other mother goddesses, it was not frequently used in
conjunction with mater in classical Latin. In the Oxford Latin
Dictionary, the phrase is attributed to Lucretius' De rerum natura,
where it is used as an epithet to describe an earth goddess:
Denique caelesti sumus omnes semine oriundi
omnibus ille idem pater est, unde alma liquentis
umoris guttas mater cum terra recepit (2.991–93)
We are all sprung from that celestial seed,
all of us have same father, from whom earth,
the nourishing mother, receives drops of liquid moisture
After the fall of Rome, the term came into Christian liturgical usage
in association with the Virgin Mary. "Alma Redemptoris Mater" is a
well-known 11th century antiphon devoted to Mary.
The earliest documented use of the term to refer to a university in an
English-speaking country is in 1600, when the
University of Cambridge
printer, John Legate, began using an emblem for the university's
press. The device's first-known appearance is on the title-page
of William Perkins' A Golden Chain, where the
Latin phrase Alma Mater
Cantabrigia ("nourishing mother Cambridge") is inscribed on a pedestal
bearing a nude, lactating woman wearing a mural crown. In
English etymological reference works, the first university-related
usage is often cited in 1710, when an academic mother-figure is
mentioned in a remembrance of
Henry More by Richard Ward.
Many historic European universities have adopted Alma Mater as part of
Latin translation of their official name. The
Latin name, Alma Mater Studiorum (nourishing mother of
studies), refers to its status as the oldest continuously operating
university in the world. Other European universities, such as the Alma
Mater Lipsiensis in Leipzig, Germany, or Alma Mater Jagiellonica,
Poland, have similarly used the expression in conjunction with
geographical or foundational characteristics. At least one, the Alma
Mater Europaea in Salzburg, Austria, an international university
founded by the
European Academy of Sciences and Arts
European Academy of Sciences and Arts in 2010, uses the
term as its official name
In the United States, the
College of William & Mary in
Williamsburg, Virginia, has been called the "Alma Mater of the Nation"
because of its ties to the country's founding. At Queen's
University in Kingston, Ontario, and the
University of British
Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia, the main student government
is known as the Alma Mater Society.
Alma Mater (1929, Lorado Taft),
University of Illinois at
The ancient Roman world had many statues of the Alma Mater, some still
extant (e.g., at the
Palatine Hill in Rome).
Modern sculptures are found in prominent locations on several American
university campuses. For example, in the United States: there is a
well-known bronze statue of Alma Mater by Daniel Chester French
situated on the steps of Columbia University's Low Library; the
University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign also has an Alma Mater
statue by Lorado Taft. An altarpiece mural in Yale University's
Sterling Memorial Library, painted in 1932 by Eugene Savage, depicts
the Alma Mater as a bearer of light and truth, standing in the midst
of the personified arts and sciences.
Outside the United States, there is an Alma Mater sculpture on the
steps of the monumental entrance to the Universidad de La Habana, in
Havana, Cuba. The statue was cast in 1919 by Mario Korbel, with
Feliciana Villalón Wilson as the inspiration for Alma Mater, and it
was installed in its current location in 1927, at the direction of
architect Raul Otero.
^ "Alma mater" at Dictionary.com. Retrieved July 11, 2011.
^ Ayto, John (2005). Word Origins (2nd ed.). London: A&C Black.
ISBN 9781408101605. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
^ Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd edition
^ "Our history -
University of Bologna". Unibo.it. Retrieved 8
^ Cresswell, Julia (2010). Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins. Oxford
University Press. p. 12. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
^ a b Sollors, Werner (1986). Beyond Ethnicity: Consent and Descent in
American Culture. Oxford
University Press. p. 78.
^ Stokes, Henry Paine (1919). Cambridge stationers, printers,
bookbinders, &c. Cambridge: Bowes & Bowes. p. 12.
Retrieved 18 May 2015.
^ Roberts, S. C. (1921). A History of the Cambridge
1521-1921. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. Retrieved 18 May
^ Stubbings, Frank H. (1995). Bedders, Bulldogs and Bedells: A
Cambridge Glossary (2nd ed.). p. 39.
^ Perkins, William (1600). A Golden Chaine: Or, the Description of
Theologie, containing the order and causes of salvation and damnation,
according to God's word. Cambridge:
University of Cambridge. Retrieved
18 May 2015.
^ Harper, Douglas. "Alma mater". Online Etymological Dictionary.
Retrieved 18 May 2015.
^ Ward, Richard (1710). The Life of the Learned and Pious Dr. Henry
More, Late Fellow of Christ's
College in Cambridge. London: Joseph
Downing. p. 148. Retrieved 18 May 2015.
^ "William & Mary – History & Traditions". wm.edu.
^ Cremata Ferrán, Mario. "Dos rostros, dos estatuas habaneras". Opus
Habana. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
Media related to
Alma mater at Wikimedia Commons
The dictionary definition of alma mater at Wiktionary