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Deo ac Veritati: Our motto and seal

By Michael Holobosky ’19

This is the origin story of Colgate’s motto and seal, as told in the gallery guide to “Deo ac Veritati: Pursuing the Classics at Colgate,” an exhibition celebrating the Bicentennial. The culminating project of the students in Professor Rebecca Ammerman’s course CLAS313: The Classics and the History of Colgate University, the exhibition was mounted in spring 2017 on the third floor of the Case-Geyer Library central stairwell.

1846
medallion with original colgate seal

University seal, circa 1820
Colgate University Memorabilia collection, A1141

medallion with original colgate seal

The knowledge, mastery, and use of fire figure among the most important achievements of humanity. Greek myth envisioned fire as the gift of the Titan Prometheus to humans, and this divine origin made fire a sacred element. The Greeks maintained perpetual fires in front of their main temples, and several of their religious festivals involved torch races, transferring the sacred fire from one altar to another. A practical use of torches was to provide light at night or in dark spaces. The torch, as a source of light in the darkness, is associated with the light of knowledge. It is therefore appropriate that the seal of Colgate University takes the torch as its main symbol.

The first seal of the school differed greatly, however, from the familiar design of Colgate’s seal today. The Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution originally inherited the seal of the New York Baptist Theological Seminary founded in Manhattan in the 1810s. This seal features a winged angel holding an open book, presumably the Bible.

When the seminary became Madison University in 1846, a group of trustees and professors, including Asahel C. Kendrick, professor of Latin, designed a seal for the new university. The seal presents a hand grasping a torch and an unfurled scroll bearing the Latin motto “Deo ac Veritati” (For God and Truth).

From this original design until today, Colgate’s seal has often varied in minor detail, but has always maintained the image of the torch.

Early version of seal depicting torch and motto
Early version of seal, as represented in the Colgate library bookplate in Plato’s The Charmides, Laches, and Lysis, American Book Company, 1900

 

More modern version of seal with flowers around outside
Cover, Salmagundi, 1915

 

Modern version of Colgate seal
Photograph by Michael Holobosky ’19

 

Entrance to Lawrence Hall

Entranceway of Lawrence Hall on the Academic Quad. Photograph by Michael Holobosky, Class of 2019

Entrance to Lawrence Hall

The main entrance to Lawrence Hall, home of the Classics Department, likewise reflects the influence of classical imagery and architecture. A classical pediment rises above the main entrance to the building that was constructed in 1926. A narrow course of squared meanders accents the triangular shape of the pediment, supported on either side by acanthus-clad modillions, or brackets. A shield inscribed with Colgate’s motto, “Deo ac Veritati,” fills the center of the pediment, while crossed torches, paired with flower-laden cornucopiae, flank each side of the shield. A scroll, reminiscent of that of the Colgate seal, wraps loosely around the torches and cornucopiae.

Notes & Sources

  • Gallery guide to Deo ac Veritati: Pursuing the Classics at Colgate, an exhibition celebrating the Bicentennial

  • Baptist Theological Seminary seal photograph courtesy of James A. Smith