Field Guide

Keys

The key is usually seen in a set of two. They are an integral part of the papal coat of arms, one silver and the other gold. The two keys on the coat of arms were adapted from the emblems of the Roman god Janus, a two-faced god--one face looking earthward and the other face looking toward the heavens. This concept can be likened to other dualities such as yin and yang. Janus used the keys to lock and unlock the seasons at the solstice. He is also illustrated with a key in one hand and a staff in another.

In Christian iconography, the keys are held by St. Peter. In effect, Christ gave Peter the power to lock and unlock the gates of heaven when he said in Matthew 16:19--"And I will give unto thee the keys to the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

And, lest we forget St. Martha, the patroness of feminine discretion and good housekeeping, she often is depicted with a sizeable assortment of keys hanging from her girdle.

Taken from Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography written and photographed by Douglas Keister, published by Gibbs Smith, Salt Lake City, 2004.