Alma mater

Alma Mater statue by Daniel Chester French, Columbia University, New York City

Alma mater (Latin: alma mater, lit. 'nourishing mother'; pl. [rarely used] almae matres) is an allegorical Latin phrase for a university, school, or college that one formerly attended.[1] In US usage, it can also mean the school from which one graduated.[2] The phrase is variously translated as "nourishing mother", "nursing mother", or "fostering mother", suggesting that a school provides intellectual nourishment to its students.[3] Fine arts will often depict educational institutions using a robed woman.

Before its current usage, alma mater was an honorific title for various Latin mother goddesses, especially Ceres or Cybele,[4] and later in Catholicism for the Virgin Mary. It entered academic usage when the 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.[5] It is related to alumnus, a term used for a university graduate that literally means a "nursling" or "one who is nourished".[6]


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.[7] 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.[7]

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.[8][9] 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.[10][11] 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.[12][13]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Alma mater
العربية: مدرسة أم
aragonés: Alma mater
asturianu: Alma mater
azərbaycanca: Alma-mater
башҡортса: Альма-матер
беларуская: Альма-матар
български: Алма матер
català: Alma mater
čeština: Alma mater
Cymraeg: Alma mater
dansk: Alma mater
Deutsch: Alma Mater
eesti: Alma mater
español: Alma mater
Esperanto: Alma mater
euskara: Alma mater
فارسی: آلما ماتر
français: Alma mater
galego: Alma máter
한국어: 모교
հայերեն: Ալմա մատեր
हिन्दी: आलमा माटर
hrvatski: Alma mater
Ilokano: Alma mater
Bahasa Indonesia: Almamater
italiano: Alma mater
עברית: אלמה מאטר
ქართული: ალმა-მატერი
қазақша: Альма матер
kurdî: Alma mater
Кыргызча: Альма-матер
latviešu: Alma mater
lietuvių: Alma mater
lumbaart: Alma mater
Bahasa Melayu: Alma mater
မြန်မာဘာသာ: မိခင်ကျောင်း
Nederlands: Alma mater
norsk: Alma mater
norsk nynorsk: Alma mater
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਅਲਮਾ ਮਾਤਰ
polski: Alma Mater
português: Alma mater
română: Alma mater
русиньскый: Alma mater
русский: Альма-матер
Scots: Alma mater
shqip: Alma Mater
Simple English: Alma mater
slovenčina: Alma mater
slovenščina: Alma mater
српски / srpski: Алма матер
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Alma mater
ၽႃႇသႃႇတႆး : ႁူင်းႁဵၼ်းမႄႈ
suomi: Alma mater
svenska: Alma mater
Tagalog: Inang diwa
тоҷикӣ: Алма-матер
Türkçe: Alma mater
українська: Альма-матер
Tiếng Việt: Alma mater
中文: 母校