E. Cobham Brewer 18101897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
of stables and cowhouses have not unfrequently, even at the present day, a stone with a hole through it and a piece of horn attached to the handle. This is a relic of an ancient superstition. The hag, halig, or holy stone was looked upon as a talisman which kept off the fiendish Mara or night-mare; and the horn was supposed to ensure the protection of the god of cattle, called by the Romans Pan.
Key as an emblem. (Anglo-Saxon, cg.)
St. Peter is always represented in Christian art with two keys in his hand; they are consequently the insignia of the Papacy, and are borne saltire-wise, one of gold and the other of silver.
They are the emblems also of St. Servatius, St. Hippolytus, St. Geneviève, St. Petronilla, St. Osyth, St. Martha, and St. Germanus of Paris.
The Bishop of Winchester bears two keys and sword in saltire.
The bishops of St. Asaph, Gloucester, Exeter, and Peterborough bear two keys in saltire.
The Cross Keys. A public-house sign; the arms of the Archbishop of York.
The key shall be upon his shoulder. He shall have the dominion. The ancient keys were instruments about a yard long, made of wood or metal. On public occasions the steward slung his key over his shoulder, as our mace-bearers carry their mace. Hence, to have the key upon ones shoulder means to be in authority, to have the keeping of something. It is said of Eliakim, that God would lay upon his shoulder the key of the house of David (Isa. xxii. 22); and of our Lord that the government should be upon His shoulder (Isa. ix. 6). The chamberlain of the court used to bear a key as his insignia.
The power of the keysi.e. the supreme authority vested in the pope as successor of St. Peter. The phrase is derived from St. Matt. xvi. 19. (Latin, Potestas clavum.)
To throw the keys into the pit. To disclaim a debt; to refuse to pay the debts of a deceased husband. This refers to an ancient French custom. If a deceased husband did not leave his widow enough for her aliment and the payment of his debts, the widow was to throw the bunch of house-keys which she carried at her girdle into the grave, and this answered the purpose of a public renunciation of all further ties. No one after this could come on her for any of her late husbands debts.