Ibarra arrives at the cemetery, in search of his father’s grave. However, upon arriving where he thinks his father is buried, he can’t find a cross marking the grave. He talks to a gravedigger, who says that he burned the cross because the head priest told him to, and that he was also told to dig up the body and bury it in the Chinese cemetery instead. Feeling that it was “better to drown than to be with the Chinese,” the gravedigger threw the corpse into the water. Ibarra is furious and leaves the cemetery. As he’s leaving, he runs into Father Salví and angrily asks what he’s done with his father, but Father Salví explains that it was his predecessor, Father Dámaso, who made the orders.
We are introduced to Tasio, an old man who had been a philosophy student whose mother convinced him to abandon his education because she feared he would forget God. Soon after leaving school to be married, both Tasio’s wife and mother died, and he soon returned to his books and neglected the rest of his life. Tasio is known politely as Don Anatasio or Tasio the Philosopher, but most people call him Tasio the Madman. Tasio runs into the mayor, who he tells that he is hoping for lightning to kill people and destroy houses since he has been trying with no success to convince villagers to purchase lightning rods for a decade. Suddenly, lightning flashes, scaring the mayor. Tasio laughs and says that “you are all worthy of the name of your patron saint in this case” in Castilian. Later, he speaks to the deputy mayor and his wife, who bring up his late wife and suggest he doesn’t believe in purgatory. In response, Tasio says that purgatory existed even before the coming of Jesus, and that its long existence proves the truth of Christian philosophy, since even Zoroaster wrote about it. Yet despite his long digression, Tasio questions the idea of eternal damnation.
As the storm continues, the narrative shifts to two young sextons, brothers Crispín and Basilio, who discuss their poverty and difficult work. Because Crispín is accused of stealing from the church, they are in debt to their employer, lowering the already meager salary they earn. Suddenly, the chief sexton interrupts them, fining Basilio for not tolling the bells properly and ordering Crispín to remain at the church until what he stole comes back. Despite the boys’ pleas, the chief sexton forcibly separates them.
An hour away from town, Basilio and Crispín’s mother Sisa lives. Her husband is a gambler who abuses her and provides nothing for the family. She waits eagerly for her sons’ return and prepares the best dinner possible for them, but her husband arrives and eats much of the food, not even caring to see his sons.
The gravedigger’s lack of guilt for digging up Ibarra’s father’s corpse illustrates the extent of the power of the church—he doesn’t even think to question the orders he receives from the head priest because the priest holds so much authority. Ibarra is the first person in the novel to challenge this authority when he aggressively confronts Father Salví. Ibarra is likely able to get away with this action in part because of his high social status, while disobeying the clergy would be unthinkable for the less-fortunate gravedigger. Yet Ibarra’s actions are still extraordinary, even among people who outsiders might expect to have power over figures like Father Salví.
Tasio is an odd figure in the narrative, a person of some prominence (though he’s often ridiculed, he’s a staple of the town) who is not clearly aligned with either the church or the government. His claim that the new church tower will attract lightning indicates his disapproval of what he sees as frivolous spending by the church that doesn’t truly align with the ideals of piety. In San Diego, priests sell indulgences, which are said to reduce the amount of time a soul spends in purgatory, on All Souls’ Day. This practice again demonstrates the corruption of the church, since the clergy members take advantage of the townspeople’s piety for their own financial benefit. Tasio disapproves of this practice, as well as the government’s allowance of it, indicating that he has his own private understanding of spirituality, like the elder Ibarra. Though he disagrees with many of the practices of organized Catholicism, he is deeply knowledgeable about the religion, as shown by his digression into the history of purgatory.
The church’s lack of concern for the best interests of the townspeople is again shown through the story of Basilio and Crispín, who must endanger themselves by climbing up the tower in the midst of a storm because of their poverty. The false accusations of stealing against Crispín also underscore this theme. Furthermore, Crispín points out that these allegations make him wish he did steal, alluding to the idea that harsh regulations and laws can create criminals out of otherwise innocent people, a theme that will come up again later in the novel.
The boys are punished for pointing out the town’s curfew (which prevents them from walking the streets to return home), which indicates that the people who suffer most from the power struggle between the ensign and Father Salví are not the authorities themselves, but innocent people like the young boys. In this manner, Rizal illustrates how the system governing a town like San Diego is rigged against vulnerable people like the brothers.
Sisa is a thoroughly tragic figure, living in extreme poverty, separated from her young sons, and abused by her husband. She is one of few characters who are fully left out of the power dynamics of San Diego—her only allies are her sons, who hold little power.