Volume III, Chapter 3
Lorenzo has alerted the Cardinal-Duke and gathered a group of archers. He plans to arrest the Prioress of St. Clare's for questioning during the annual procession in honor of St. Clare, and as night falls he waits by the gates for her to appear.
Lorenzo remains unmoved by the beautiful music coming from the convent; he knows that some of these sweet voices issue from hearts black with sin, and he looks with a cynical eye at all the devout pilgrims gathered to the scene. Lorenzo finds the miracles and artifices of religion to be shallow and superstitious, and he has long awaited a chance to reveal the hypocrisies of religion to his countrymen. He now not only has the chance to do this, but to save his sister as well.
The procession begins. Nuns and monks together hold candles and chant hymns, and young nuns dressed as saints feature prominently in the procession. The most beautiful of these, however, is a woman representing St. Clare: she rides on a machine fashioned like a throne, clad in a rich gown and wearing a wreath of diamonds. She is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, and if he was not already dedicated to Antonia, he might have fallen in love with her. He overhears a bystander say that she is Virginia de Villa-Franca, a relative of the Prioress. He also sees Mother St. Ursula, who looks relieved to see him.
The Prioress herself is following this chariot, and she is stunned when Lorenzo's companion Don Ramirez comes forward to take her into custody. The Prioress declares that she is a servant of the church, and for a moment it seems as though the crowd might riot to defend her; only the threat of Lorenzo's archers keep her at bay. Then Mother St. Ursula comes forward, publicly accusing the Prioress of murder.
Many of the nuns - including the beautiful Virginia - flee the scene. In order to be seen and heard, Mother St. Ursula takes her place on the giant throne to tell her story.
She declares that Agnes was the sweetest and gentlest nun in the convent, but her violation of the order's laws brought down on her the hatred of the Prioress. The Prioress decided to revive an ancient punishment: Agnes would be locked in a dungeon for the rest of her days, given only food and water, forced to meditate on her crime. Ursula and several other nuns spoke out against the punishment, but the Prioress refused to hear them. Ursula visited Agnes before her trial, comforting her and trying to think of a solution. Suddenly, the door opened and the Prioress (together with her cronies) walked in. Ursula took refuge behind a large cross.
The nuns call Agnes a monster and disgrace to the convent, and force her to drink from a mysterious goblet despite her pleas of protest. When Agnes tries to refuse the cup, the Prioress places a dagger to her heart and threatens to stab her if she does not drink it. Weeping, Agnes downs the liquid. As Agnes suffers from the effects of the poison, the nuns stand around her bed and mock her. At last, Agnes ceases to struggle and move. Ursula is horrified, and breathes a prayer for her dead friend. Now, she seeks justice against the Prioress for this cruel murder.
The mob is enraged and demands the Prioress. Though Don Ramirez and Lorenzo try to stop them, they grab her and beat her to death.
Lorenzo and his friends scarcely have time to recover from this gristly event when they learn that the mob is attacking St. Clare's convent; the crowd is so enraged that they have decided to destroy the entire convent. They destroy every artifact they can find, and light fire to whatever they can reach. Lorenzo does his best to beat back the mob and protect the innocent nuns.
Attempting to escape from the growing flames, Lorenzo finds himself in the crypt of St. Clare's convent. Following a loud scream, he finds a group of nuns huddled around the statue of St. Clare. One catches sight of him and begs for mercy - he recognizes the lovely face of Virginia de Villa-Franca. He promises the nuns that he will not hurt them.
Locked in the moldering crypt with rioters torching the convent about, the women are tormented by both natural and supernatural fears. Lorenzo advises them not to be swayed by fear, but one of them claims that she has indeed heard loud groaning in the crypt. Suddenly, Lorenzo hears it as well.
The sounds appear to come from the statue of St. Clare. The nuns warn Lorenzo not to touch it - a sacrilegious thief once did so, and ended up losing his hand. Lorenzo dismisses this as superstition, and discovers that the saint's statue conceals a secret door. Lorenzo follows the narrow staircase into mist and darkness.
At the bottom, he finds an emaciated, unwashed woman holding a small bundle. She cries out that she has been forgotten and will soon die, then speaks sweetly to the bundle she is holding. When Lorenzo reveals himself, she asks if this figure is one of the nuns come to torment her once more. Lorenzo declares that he has not come to torment her, but to save her. He lifts up the ragged woman, and brings her out of her prison.
Back by the statue, the other nuns (including Virginia) crowd around the prisoner and attempt to comfort her. Suddenly, footsteps are heard, and Don Ramirez appears with his attendants. Lorenzo orders half the archers to escort the nuns back to their families, and the other half to comb the crypt with him, in order to find any other unfortunate prisoners. Virginia (more out of self-interest than compassion) asks to continue caring for the unknown prisoner. Lorenzo is quite taken with her compassion and gentleness, and allows her to do so.
As Lorenzo and Don Ramirez continue further into the crypt, they hear a woman's voice cry out for help. To his horror, Lorenzo recognizes this voice.
Volume III, Chapter 4
Ambrosio is delighted. He has Antonia in the crypts of St. Clare (totally ignorant of the terrible scene erupting outside), and he is about to fulfill his desire. The Procession of St. Clare means that he and Antonia are totally alone on the monastery grounds. He eagerly waits for the effects of the poison to wear off.
He stares with lust at the body of Antonia, flush with youth and beauty, lying among the decaying corpses of the nuns. Not even this morbid atmosphere can dim Ambrosio's desires.
Slowly, Antonia awakes. She is overcome with horror at her grisly surroundings, and seeing Ambrosio, begs the man she thinks is her friend to take her from this awful place. She is horrified when Ambrosio confesses his desire for her, and again demands to be taken home. Infuriated by her rejection of his advances, Ambrosio tells Antonia that she is believed dead and lost to society forever. Nothing will save her from Ambrosio's embraces. Despite Antonia's screams and struggles, Ambrosio forces himself on her.
After he has finished raping Antonia, Ambrosio is filled with self-disgust at this horrifying act. He stares at Antonia with disgust as she weeps silently. Eventually she stands up and attempts to leave the crypt, but Ambrosio stops her. If she leaves, she will expose him to the outside world. Ambrosio castigates her for arousing his desire, and holds her responsible for his moral downfall. He feels guilty for ruining Antonia's honor and destroying her life, but he cannot find a way to express these emotions.
He declares that she will remain a prisoner in the crypt for the rest of her life. Antonia begs to be released back to the world and promises to conceal the circumstances of her abduction, but Ambrosio refuses.
Suddenly, Matilda appears, bringing news of the terrible riot that is destroying the convent of St. Clare's. Moreover, the rest of the sepulcher is filled with Lorenzo's archers, so Ambrosio cannot escape easily. Fearing that Antonia will be discovered and Ambrosio's double life revealed, Matilda chargers at the other woman with a dagger. Ambrosio protects Antonia, but at that moment she hears voices echoing elsewhere in the sepulcher and runs toward them, crying for help. Ambrosio chases after her and, in desperation, stabs her repeatedly. He runs off just as Lorenzo and Don Ramirez appear.
Don Ramirez pursues the murderer, and Lorenzo cradles his beloved. Antonia is dying, but in her last moments she exchanges declarations of love with Lorenzo, who is hysterical when she passes away. Don Ramirez apprehends Ambrosio, and Matilda is taken into custody as well.
The convent of St. Clare's is completely destroyed. The surviving nuns return to their families or find places in other convents; the nuns who sided with the Prioress during the trial of Agnes find receive a very icy reception in their new homes. Mother St. Ursula, on the other hand, is named the Superintendent of the Ladies of Charity.
Virginia de Villa-France lavishes great care on the unknown woman found in the dungeon, who recovers quickly. Remarkably, the woman is revealed to be Agnes, who was so disfigured by her suffering that even Virginia could not recognize her. The two were close friends in the convent, and Virginia had long nurtured affection for Agnes' handsome brother Lorenzo. Virginia confesses her feelings to Agnes, who promises to help her win Lorenzo's heart.
Agnes and Raymond are reunited, to the great joy of both. Lorenzo mourns Antonia, and he is comforted by frequent visits from Virginia. Eventually, he begins to fall in love with this beautiful, gentle woman.
One day when Virginia, Agnes, and Raymond are visiting him, Lorenzo asks Agnes to explain how she came to be in the dungeon. Agnes explains that that Prioress gave her a substance that mimicked death, and that she awoke in the crypt surrounded by decaying bodies. The Prioress explains that this will be Agnes' punishment for her sins: she will live out the rest of her days locked in this dungeon, eating only bread and water. She has no hope for rescue; her family and the convent thinks that she is dead. Agnes goes into labor and gives birth to a premature baby, who dies. However, it is her only companion in this dark and dreary place, and she continues to cradle the infant's corpse even as it becomes riddles with maggots. It was in this horrific state that Lorenzo came to rescue her.
Agnes is ready to move on from this horrible experience, and she soon marries Raymond. Lorenzo and Virginia are married as well, and the two couples live happily ever after.
Virginia de Villa-Franca is a peculiar character. She is introduced primarily in order to give the story of Lorenzo a happy ending, and we are told that the two enjoy a very happy marriage. Yet in some ways, her character seems conniving and opportunistic. She is one of the first to flee when Lorenzo and Don Ramirez halt the procession, and her care for the woman from the dungeon is calculated to arouse Lorenzo's sympathy and interest. Additionally, she wins over Agnes and Lorenzo's other family connections before revealing her true intentions for him. Perhaps this makes her the polar opposite of Lorenzo's first love interest, Antonia, who is consistently described as guileless and naive.
Agnes and Antonia endure parallel cases of imprisonment in St. Clare's sepulcher. The deaths of both women are faked using a substance that induces a death-like state (in fact, the substances given to both women likely come from the same bottle - the reader is told that Ambrosio obtained the poison from the convent of St. Clare's). There are, of course, major differences. Agnes is imprisoned in the crypt as punishment for her sexual transgressions, and Antonia is locked in the same dank place in order to fulfill the sexual desires of another. Additionally, Agnes is freed from her prison, while Antonia dies in that dark and ugly place.
As in other works of gothic literature, the surroundings match the turmoil endured by the characters. As Ambrosio is raping Antonia, the rioters are tearing down the convent of St. Clare - the destruction of a woman is paralleled by the destruction of an institution.
In the novel, as in other works of English drama (such as Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus), the raped woman dies after her violation. She is a tragic figure who can never be redeemed from the fate that has been forced upon her; the social death caused by rape (which would likely prevent the woman from being able to arrange a suitable marriage) is followed by a literal death. Though this narrative strategy made these raped women sympathetic characters for eighteenth-century readers, it often leaves a bad taste in the mouths of modern readers.
All of the primary protagonists receive a happy ending, but what is to become of Ambrosio? We have yet to see....