The Dove and the Keys

by Erin Pawlik
[student, Rome Sketchbook course, spring 2011]

Papal Keys

Crest of the Pamphili family,
San Giovanni in Laterano
In churches the papal crest is identifiable by the presence of a pair of keys and a Papal crown. The keys are specifically linked to the Bible passage of Matthew 16:18-19, where Christ gives the keys of heaven and hell to Peter. St. Peter is believed to be the first Pope, so the keys and the authority that they hold have been symbolically passed down through the generations until today's Pope. The Popes, with these keys, declare themselves to be the only person who can open and close the gates of heaven and hell, and decide who goes to which place. No one else can enter unless he turns the key. In almost all representations, the key is facing downwards; however, the keys on the Pamphili papal crest above the entrance of the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano are facing upwards as though they have been turned. This seems to suggest that the Pope Pamphili has unlocked the gates, because the key is in an unlocked position.

The Pamphili Dove

dove, family symbol of
the Pamphili,
San Giovanni in Laterano
Another symbol of the Pamphili family is the dove with an olive branch in its beak. This is a direct reference to the bible passage Genesis 8:11, where the dove is the first to bring news back to Noah on his ark that the flood had receded and, therefore, brought proof of God's pact of peace with man. The dove is a particularly important religious symbol as attested by many biblical passages. For example, we see the dove as a symbol of purity in the following passages: Leviticus 1:14; Matthew 10:16; and Jeremiah 48:28.