"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 stars over the eagle's head, and a glory surrounds the eye in a triangle in the zenith of an 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" are the natural equivalent to the 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.
But almost all U.S. government versions show the light rays being blocked by the cloud. Exceptions are the Diplpmatic Medal of 1792 and the Great Seal Centennial Medal of 1882.