Numen Lumen

Tracy Woolever '81

What does ‘Numen Lumen’ mean? What is the history behind it?

Abe

The phrase “Numen Lumen,” developed as part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s seal and motto, is Latin and can be translated to mean, “God, our light.” But, according to a University Communications News Library article, the UW’s first chancellor, John Lathrop, who assisted in the creation of the motto, interpreted it to mean, “The divine within the universe, however manifested, is my light.”

This credo was the UW’s first seal and was chosen to reflect the religious beliefs and values of Wisconsin citizens. And apparently, the UW was not the only university to use such strong religious words and objects in its motto — at the time, many other universities used similar references. Although “Numen Lumen” is still an important seal at the university, it is not as heavily used in representations of UW-Madison today.