Giusto de' Menabuoi
St. James the Greater and the Man in the High Tower

14th century
Basilica of St. Anthony, Padua

The inscription at the bottom of the fresco tells the story of the tower: Quadam mercator dum in quadam turre iniuste teneretur inclusus Beatus Jacobus sibi aparens turrem usque ad terram sic inclinare fecit ita ut salvus exivit de turre, "When a certain merchant was unjustly locked into a certain tower, Blessed James appeared to him and tipped the tower to the ground so that he could leave safe from the tower."

This account follows the one in the Golden Legend (Ryan, II, 8). In Caxton's translation of the Legend the story differs. James tells the prisoner to "follow me into Galicia, and then his bonds brake." The man then goes to the top of the 90-foot tower and "sprang down without hurting." Broken shackles are not specifically mentioned in the original account, but in the fresco they lie at the base of the tower.

The import of this image is best understood through its context. It is on the right as one enters the Conti Chapel, which is dedicated to Saints James and Philip. On the left is a fresco in the same size. In it the killers of St. Philip are pictured as the Contis and the people of Padua. The image is thus a penitential exercise appropriate for one entering to the sacred liturgy. The tower image gives the complementary insight, liberation from the prison of sin by the action of Christ through his Apostles.

The text in the arch above the tower image reads Abiud autem genuit elyachim elyachim autem genuit azor, "And Abiud begot Eliacim. And Eliacim begot Azor." Presumably the figures above the arch are Eliacim and Azor. In the Middle Ages they were believed to be among the ancestors of both James the Greater and St. Joseph.1

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Photographed at the basilica by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

1 In the chart on the "Holy Kinship" page both James and Joseph were descended from Mathan, who in Matthew 1:13-16 is the great-great-great-grandson of Azor.