The ancient iron mines of Spain were no less celebrated than her mines of silver and of gold. Nevertheless, the history of Spanish iron-work begins comparatively late. Excepting certain swords and other weapons which require to be noticed under Arms, and owing to the commonness and cheapness of this metal, as well as to the ease with which it decomposes under damp, few of the earliest Spanish objects made of iron have descended to our time.1 Even Riano pays but little notice to this craft in the Peninsula before the second half of the fifteenth century. Henceforth, he says, "it continued to progress in the sixteenth, and produced, undoubtedly, at that period works which were unrivalled in Europe."

1 A small collection, formed by Don Emilio Rotondo, of primitive iron rings, bracelets, brooches, and other ornaments, is preserved in the Schools of Aguirre at Madrid. Villa-amil y Castro {Anti-gudades prehistoricas y celticas, and Castros y Mamoas dc Galicia, published in the Museo Espanol dc Antiguedades, describes some iron objects of uncertain use discovered in Galicia, together with spear-heads and other weapons or pieces of weapons which will be noticed under Anns, and also an object which he says may once have been a candlestick, or else a kind of flute. All these are probably pre-Roman. Dating from the Roman period are an iron ploughshare and some sickles, discovered at Ronda towns, and fortresses were held to be significant of ownership, or vigilance, or conquest. Especially was this the case in Spain - a nation incessantly engaged in war. Probably in no country in the world has the ceremony of delivering up this mark of tenure of a guarded and defended place occurred so often as here. Do we not read of it in stirring- stanzas of her literature? Do we not find it in her paintings, on her stone and metal rilievi, or carved in wood upon the stalls of her cathedrals? Therefore the key, just like the sword, seemed, in the warm imagination of the Spaniards, to be something almost sacred. The legislative codes of Old Castile are most minute in their relation of its venerated attributes. Nor were the Spanish Muslims less alive to its importance than their foe, taking it also for an emblem of their own, and planting it in lordly eminence upon their gates and towers of Cordova, and Seville, and Granada. For what was Tank's Mountain but the key of the narrow gate that led to their enchanted land, as sunny as, and yet less sultry than, their sandy home; truly a land of promise to the fiery children of the desert, panting for the paradise that smiled at them across the storied strip of emerald and sapphire water?

The decorative iron-work of Spain may suitably be dealt with in three classes: railings, screens, or pulpits of churches, chapels, and cathedrals; balconies and other parts or fittings applied to public or private buildings of a non-ecclesiastical character; and smaller, though not necessarily less attractive or important objects, such as knockers, locks and keys, and nail-heads.

The last of these divisions, as embracing Spanish-Moorish craftsmanship, shall have, as far as order is concerned, our preferential notice.

Surely, in the whole domain of history, no object has a grander symbolism than the key. In mediaeval times the keys of cities, castles, in Andalusia, and now in the Madrid Museum. Gongora, however (Antiguedades prehistoricas de Andalucia), inclines to think that previous to the Roman conquest the occupants of Betica were ignorant of this metal, though not of gold, from which they fashioned diadems and other articles of wear. See also Caballero Infante, Aureos y barras de oro y plata encontrados en el pueblo de Santiponce, Seville, 1898.

So was it that both Moors and Spaniards made their keys of fortresses and citadels almost into an object of their worship. In hearing or in reading of such keys, the mind at once recurs to those of Seville (Plate xix.), two in number, famed throughout the world of mediaeval art, and stored among the holiest relics in the sacristy of her cathedral. The larger is of silver, in the style now known as Mudejar, and dates from the second half of the thirteenth century. The length is rather more than eight inches, and the whole key is divided into five compartments, ornamented in enamels and in gold. Castles, ships, and lions adorn the thicker portion of the stem between the barrel proper and the handle; and on the rim of the latter is this inscription, in Hebrew characters: -

"The King of Kings will open; the king of all the land shall enter" 1

The wards are also beautifully carved into the following legend, distributed in two rows, one superposed upon the other, of two words and of ten letters apiece: -

1 Riafio's reading was, "the King of the whole Earth will enter." But is not this contradicted by the other inscription on the same key?

Old Keys (Seville Cathedral)

Old Keys (Seville Cathedral)

"Dios abrird; Rey entrard."

"God will open; the king shall enter"

The iron key is purely Moorish, smaller than its fellow, and measures just over six inches. Like the other, it consists of five divisions, and the wards are in the form of an inscription in African Cufic characters, which Gayangos and other Arabists have variously interpreted. Five of the commonest readings are as follows: -

(1) "May Allah permit that the rule (of Islam) last for ever in this city."

(2) "By the grace of God may {this key) last for ever."

(3) "May peace be in the King's mansion"

(4) "May God grant us the boon of the preservation of the city."

(5) "To God (belongs) all the empire and the power."

Our earliest tidings of this iron key are from the Jesuit Bernal, who wrote in the seventeenth century. It was not then the property of the cathedral chapter, for Ortiz de Zuniga says that it belonged, in the same century, to a gentleman of Seville named Don Antonio Lopez de Mesa, who had inherited it from his father.