"Glory" is a heraldic term for an emanation of light rays, usually golden colored. It is the only symbolic element incorporated into both sides of the Great Seal.
A glory breaks through a cloud surrounding the constellation of 13 stars in the crest above the bald eagle, and a glory surrounds the eye of Providence in a triangle above the unfinished pyramid.
The Great Seal's designers must have considered the glory an important symbol. Each of their preliminary designs included a glory.
- First Committee (1776):
- The Eye of Providence is in a "radiant Triangle whose Glory extends over the Shield and beyond the Figures." On the reverse side are "Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Cloud."
- Second Committee (1780):
- Rays of light are inside the clouds. On the reverse side, light emanates from Liberty's cap.
- Third Committee (May 1782):
- The Genius of America wears "a radiated Crown of Gold." On the reverse side, the Eye is "surrounded with a Glory."
- Charles Thomson's Design (June 1782):
- "Over the head of the Eagle a Constellation of Stars surrounded with bright rays." In his drawing, the light rays extend throughout the seal and over the eagle rising.
The glory symbolizes the light of Providence and together with the eye and motto Annuit Coeptis "allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favor of the American cause." Official explanation
Crepuscular rays Nature's Glory
According to the official description of the Great Seal, the glory is supposed to be "breaking through a cloud" over the eagle's head. Early illustrations were faithful to this design detail, especially the Indian Peace Medals given by President Washington.
U.S. government versions, however, show the light rays being blocked by the cloud. This includes all official dies since 1782, as well as the current illustration:
In contrast, medals produced by the U.S. government are correct:
Diplomatic Medal (1792)            Centennial Medal (1882)
New realization of Thomson's sketch