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The Eye of Providence (or the all-seeing eye of God) is a symbol showing an eye often surrounded by rays of light or a glory and usually enclosed by a triangle. It is sometimes interpreted as representing the eye of God watching over humankind (or divine providence). In the modern era, the most notable depiction of the eye is the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States, which appears on the United States one-dollar bill.
Many religions have used the image of an eye in their religious symbolism. One of the earliest known examples (from Egyptian mythology) is the Eye of Horus. However, the association of an eye with the concept of Divine Providence did not emerge until the Christian era.
In Medieval and Renaissance European iconography, the Eye (often with the addition of an enclosing triangle) was an explicit image of the Christian Trinity. Seventeenth-century depictions of the Eye of Providence sometimes show it surrounded by clouds or sunbursts.
In 1782, the Eye of Providence was adopted as part of the symbolism on the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States. It was first suggested as an element of the Great Seal by the first of three design committees in 1776 and is thought to be the suggestion of the artistic consultant, Pierre Eugene du Simitiere.
In his original proposal to the committee, Du Similtere placed the Eye over shields symbolizing each of the original thirteen states of the Union. On the version of the seal that was eventually approved, the Eye is positioned above an unfinished pyramid of thirteen steps (again symbolizing the original States, but incorporating the nation's potential for future growth). The symbolism is explained by the motto that appears above the Eye: Annuit Coeptis, meaning "He approves (or has approved) [our] undertakings". This reflects the founding fathers belief that God favors the creation the United States and will bless its future prosperity.
Perhaps due to its use in the design of the Great Seal, the Eye has made its way into other American seals and logos, notably the Seal of Colorado and DARPA's Information Awareness Office. It is also part of the City Seal of Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Today, the Eye of Providence is usually associated with Freemasonry. The Eye first appeared as part of the standard iconography of the Freemasons in 1797, with the publication of Thomas Smith Webb's Freemasons Monitor. Here, it represents the all-seeing eye of God and is a reminder that a Mason's thoughts and deeds are always observed by God (who is referred to in Masonry as the Great Architect of the Universe). Typically, the Masonic Eye of Providence has a semi-circular glory below the eye. Sometimes the Eye is enclosed by a triangle.
Popular among conspiracy theorists is the claim that the Eye of Providence shown atop an unfinished pyramid on the Great Seal of the United States indicates the influence of Freemasonry in the founding of the United States. This was dramatized in the 2004 Disney film National Treasure. However, common Masonic use of the Eye dates to 14 years after the creation of the Great Seal. Furthermore, among the members of the various design committees for the Great Seal, only Benjamin Franklin was a Mason (and his ideas for the seal were not adopted). Indeed, many Masonic organizations have explicitly denied any connection to the creation of the Seal.
The Eye of Providence appears on many coats of arms and official seals, such as:
The Eye appears on the following currency: