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Locks Within Religion

25th April 2019

Easter is on the horizon, and along with it a reminder of what can happen if you don’t fit proper locks to giant rocks – Jesus really did make the whole profession look bad on that day - but I think we’ve just about recovered. Besides, if the Romans had secured the services of a professional, accredited locksmith, who knows how different the Easter story would be. 

But in an attempt to stay the right side of blasphemy, today I’ll look at the role locks and keys have played within religion and superstition down the years. Because I know that’s what you come to this blog for – a lock-related history lesson. 

 The Vatican City, being the Papal state, is the spiritual home of Catholicism – if you ever want to pop in to see the Pope, then that’s your first port of call. Perhaps not at the weekends though as that seems to be when he’s at his busiest. Your best bet is to choose a Tuesday or Wednesday, as long as you avoid the hours of ten until eleven a.m. as he loves his Homes Under the Hammer. Anyway, the Vatican City Papal state has its own emblem – a coat of arms, itself derived from the lesser used coat of arms of the Holy See. This Papal State emblem, handily illustrated on the right, comprises 2 diagonal keys crossing each other, below a bejewelled tiara.

Being interested to a nerd-like degree in all things key-related, this Coat of Arms piqued my interest, so I did a little research into it. It turns out that the keys represent the promise that Christ made to the disciple, Peter - "I will entrust to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you declare loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  The keys are symbolic of the keys of heaven entrusted to him. Furthermore, the gold key represents the power in the kingdom of the heavens, whilst the silver key represents the authority of the papacy on the mortal earth. The fact that the keys cross, and are tied with cords alludes to the bond between the two powers on heaven and earth.  You’ll notice that the handle of the keys are at the bottom of the shield – this is a sign that the power is in the hands of the Pope on earth. 

Moving from Catholicism to Judaism, and keys play a part there too. In days gone by (I know, the accuracy of my historical knowledge is astonishing), Jewish midwives would often place a key in the hand of the expectant mother whilst she was in labour. The key was thought to unlock the child, as it were, and to help ensure the safe delivery of the baby. 

Moving from religion to superstition, now, and no, I’m making no comments on the similarity or otherwise between those two phenomena. In parts of Eastern Europe there is still a superstition that a key can bring good dreams to the owner. Keys can often be found hanging upside down on bedroom walls above the bed in order to prevent bad dreams. I suspect this was all well and good unless the key fell off the wall during the night, in which case it would be more of a rude awakening than a pleasant dream.  

On a slightly morbid note, there used to be a tradition in Ionia (now, modern-day Turkey) to bury the dead accompanied with an iron key. The reasoning was that the key would assist the dead in unlocking the door to the Underworld. I should be clear that although I deal with all manner of lock and key-related issues, this is not one for me, so please don’t ask me to provide keys for the afterlife – it’s kind of beyond my powers.

So that we don’t end on that deathly note, we’ll make a quick jump over to the Far East. If you are ever lucky enough to visit Japan, you may notice decorations dotted around consisting of three keys joined together. These are also often worn as charms by the locals. The keys are traditionally said to unlock the secrets to wisdom, life and love. Which is a fairly decent combination when you think about it, so I might put in an order for one of those.

And here ends the whistle-stop tour of nods towards keys in religious and superstitious thought. I’m sure there are many more examples but we’ll have to unlock them on another day. In the meantime, for any practical assistance with locks or security, please give me a call on 01709 711055 or 07990573857 for a speedy response.

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