Tradition declares that both this key and its companion were laid at the feet of Ferdinand the Third by Axataf, governor of Seville, when the city capitulated to the Christian prince on November 23rd, 1248. But Ortiz is careful to inform us that he neither countenances nor rejects the popular notion that the iron key was thus delivered as the token of surrender, "although," he says, "the owners of it are strongly of this judgment." What we do know is that on June 16th, 1698, the iron key was presented to the cathedral by Dona Catalina Basilia Domonte y Pinto, niece of the Senor Lopez de Mesa aforesaid; and that the chapter forthwith accepted it with solemn gratitude as "one of the keys delivered by the Moors to the Rey Santo on the conquest of the city," ordering it to be guarded in a special box.
Such is the popular fancy still accepted by the Sevillanos. However, Amador de los Rios has sifted out a good deal of the truth, showing that the iron and the silver key are wrought in different styles, and were intended for a different purpose. He places the iron instrument among the "keys of conquered cities," and its silver neighbour among the "keys of honour, or of dedication"; and he declares as certain (although the reasons he adduces do not quite convince me) that this iron key is actually the one which figured in the ceremony of surrender. The other he considers to have been a gift from the Sevillians to the tenth Alfonso, son of Ferdinand the saint and conqueror, as a loyal and a grateful offering in return for his protection of their industries and commerce. However this may be, the decorative aspect of the larger key, together with the choice material of which it is made, appears to prove that it was not associated with the rigours of a siege, but served in some way as a symbol of prosperity and peace. It was a common custom at a later age for Spanish cities to present their sovereign, when he came among them, with a richly ornamented key. Such keys were offered to Charles the Fifth and Philip the Second when, in 1526 and 1570, respectively, they visited Seville; while Riano reminds us that "even in the present day the ceremony is still kept up of offering a key to the foreign princes who stay at the royal palace of Madrid." Similarly, as an ordinary form of salutation, does the well - bred Spaniard place his house at your disposal.
Five Moorish keys - one of bronze and four of iron - are in the Museum of Segovia, and bear, as Amador observes, a general resemblance to the iron key of Seville. The wards of four of them are shaped into the following inscriptions: the first key, "In Secovia (Segovia) "; the second, "(This) key was curiously wrought at Medina Huelma, God protect her"; the third, "Open"; and the fourth, "This work is by Abdallah."
The first and smallest of these keys informs us, therefore, that it was manufactured at Segovia. The third key is that which is of bronze, and bears the word "Open" probably addressed to Allah. The second, which is also the largest and the most artistic and ornate, belonged, we read upon its wards, to Huelma, a fortress-town upon the frontiers of the kingdom of Granada. This town was wrested from the Moors on April 20th, 1438, by Inigo Lopez de Mendoza, first Marquis of Santillana, who possibly sent this key to Castile as a present to his sovereign, Juan the Second, in company with the usual papers of capitulation.
Other Moorish keys are scattered over Spain in various of her public and private collections, though none are so remarkable as those of Seville and Segovia. The town of Sepulveda possesses seven early iron keys, several of which are Moorish. Others are at Burgos, Valencia, Palma, Jaen, and Granada. At the last-named city the following key, dating undoubtedly from the period of the Muslim domination, was discovered, in 1901, among the debris of the Palace of Seti Meriem.1
Keys of awe-inspiring magnitude are still preferred among the Spaniards to a handier and slighter instrument, this people seeming to believe that the bigger the key the more inviolable is the custody which it affords - a theory not at all upheld by modern experts in this venerable craft. Perhaps this singular and local preference is derived from Barbary. At any rate it still obtains across the Strait. "Our host," wrote Mr Cunninghame Graham in Mogreb-El-Acksa, "knocks off great pieces from a loaf of cheap French sugar with the key of the house, drawing it from his belt and hammering lustily, as the key weighs about four ounces, and is eight or nine inches long." Of such a length are nearly all the house-keys of contemporary Spain; and with this apparatus bulging in his belt the somnolent sereno or night-watchman of this sleepy, unprogressive, Latino-Mussulmanic land prowls to this hour along the starlit streets of Barcelona, Seville, or Madrid.
1 La Alhambra (from which this sketch is taken) for September 30th, 1901; article on the Palace of Seti Meriem, by F. de Paula Valladar.
The city Ordinances of Granada form a valuable and interesting link between the Spanish-Moorish craftsmanship and that of Spaniards Christian-born, The Ordenanzas de Cerrageros, or Locksmiths' Ordinances, though not voluminous, are curious and informative beyond the rest, and show us that a general rascality was prevalent in Granada after her reconquest from the Moor. Locksmiths were forbidden now to make a lock the impression of which was put into their hands in wax, even if the order should be sweetened by "a quantity of maravedis," since the effect of such commissions, whose very secrecy betrayed illicit and improper ends in view, was stated to be "very greatly perilous and mischief-making."
Another Ordinance reveals the Christian locksmiths of Granada as arrant scoundrels, almost as troublesome to deal with as the pestering little shoeblacks of to-day. "Word is brought us," groaned the aldermen, "how many locksmiths, foreigners that dwell within this city as well as naturals that go up and down our thoroughfares, in taking locks and padlocks to repair, do, at the same time that they set the keys in order, contrive to fit them with new wards inferior to the older ones, so as to be able to open and close them with the keys they have themselves in store, wherein is grave deceitfulness, seeing that the aforesaid locks and padlocks may be opened in such wise without a key at all." 1