When Angela was twenty-four, her brother Lazaro came back from America with a small sum of money and with hopes to take the family to live in a city. Lazaro believed after living in America that civilization was the opposite of rural life, and that the family would stagnate if they remained in their provincial village. This did not sit well with Angela’s mother, who angrily spoke against Lazaro, saying that she will not be uprooted away from her lake, her mountain, and Don Manuel. This made Lazaro very angry, and he lashed out against the villagers with anticlerical and antireligious rants, saying that they were country bumpkins and comparing their village to a backward feudal society.
Lazaro was first surprised when no one was convinced by his arguments; he soon changed his mind, however, after meeting Don Manuel. Lazaro was drawn in by Don Manuel’s personality, and exclaimed that Don Manuel really was a saint. Despite this, he did not stop voicing his skepticism about religion. After hearing Don Manuel speak one day, Lazaro confided in Angela that he believed Don Manuel was too intelligent to believe in his own teachings. To help Angela understand his opinion, Lazaro gave Angela some books he brought from America for her to read. When Don Manuel learned of this, he encouraged Angela to read the books Lazaro gave her to make Lazaro happy.
Soon, Angela's mother became deathly ill. Her one wish was to see Don Manuel convert Lazaro, whom she hoped to see again in heaven. Don Manuel told Angela's mother that her soul will stay in her house in Valverde de Lucerna, where she will be able to see and hear her children. When Angela's mother replied that she was ready to go see God, Don Manuel responded that God was already here, all around her and in all of them. Don Manuel then told Angela that "the contentment with which [her] mother is ready to die...will be her eternal life." Then, Don Manuel turned to Lazaro and told him to tell the mother that Lazaro will pray for her. Though at first Lazaro hesitated, he was moved by Don Manuel's instruction and, with tears in his eyes, told his mother that he would pray for her. Thus, Angela's mother gratefully delivered her soul to God.
In this way, the death of Angela's mother created a special bond between Lazaro and Don Manuel. During the afternoons, they walked along the shore of the lake, or towards the old Cistercian Abbey. As they grew closer, Lazaro began to attend Mass every day to hear Don Manuel, and he soon decided to join the parish and take communion. With this news, the village people began to rejoice, thinking that Lazaro had finally been saved. On the day of his communion, Don Manuel approached Lazaro holding the Sacred Host (communion bread). Angela remembers he was white as the winter snow on the mountain, and trembling like the water of the lake, and was shaking so much that he dropped the Sacred Host. But afterwards, it was Lazaro that bent over to pick up the Sacred Host. The village people saw that Don Manuel was weeping, and they also wept, saying, "How he loves him!" Then, because it was dawn, a rooster crowed.
When they returned home, Angela threw her arms around Lazaro and exclaimed that he had brought happiness to everyone in the village, saying how Don Manuel was crying with happiness. When Lazaro replied that this was why he did it, Angela was confused, insisting Lazaro must also have done it for his own happiness as well. Following this, Lazaro sat down, his complexion as pale as Don Manuel when he had given communion, and he told Angela that he must confess to her the whole truth about him and Don Manuel. This was how Angela discovered that Don Manuel had urged Lazaro to pretend to believe for the sake of the villagers, and that Don Manuel himself did not believe. At that moment, Blasillo the Fool walked down the street and cried, "My God, my God!, why hast thou forsaken me?" and Lazaro shuddered, imagining he had heard the voice of Don Manuel and possibly Jesus Christ.
Lazaro continued to say that he now understood Don Manuel's motives. Don Manuel believed that if one deceives others for their sake, for their happiness, it is not deceit at all. When Lazaro asked Don Manuel, "What about the truth?", Don Manuel had whispered in Lazaro's ear, "The truth...is perhaps something terrible, something intolerable...and these people could not live with it." Don Manuel said the reason he confessed this to Lazaro was because it bothered Don Manuel so much that he was afraid he would reveal it to everyone. However, Don Manuel could never allow himself to do this; he considered his task to make his parishioners happy and make them feel immortal, not to kill them. He said that all religions are true because they "help those who profess them to live spiritually, and then console them for having been born to die." Finally, Lazaro said of the villagers that they "believe without thinking, by habit, by tradition," and that he now agrees with Don Manuel that it is important that they not wake up.
Following this, Angela demanded to know if Lazaro had kept his promise to pray for their mother after her death. Lazaro replied that he had kept his promise and prayed for her every day since then; if he hadn't, he said, he would not be able to live with himself. Angela replied that he should pray for himself and for Don Manuel, and angrily stormed off to her room, where she cried all night long and prayed for Lazaro and Don Manuel. Afterward, when Angela went to confession with Don Manuel, she began to weep in silence, and Don Manuel guessed the cause. He finally broke the silence, asking Angela if she still believed as she did when she was ten years old; when Angela replied that she did, Don Manuel told her to keep believing, and to keep any doubts to herself. When Angela asked Don Manuel if he believed, however, he hesitated before saying yes, and did not specify what he believed. Angela stops in her memoir to ponder why Don Manuel didn't deceive her then, before deciding that Don Manuel became upset because he could not deceive himself in order to deceive her. Suddenly, Don Manuel asked Angela why she hadn't married yet, and said she should get married to cure herself of her preoccupations. As they got up to leave, Don Manuel suddenly asked Angela if she absolved him. Angela felt as though she was filled with a mysterious priesthood, and she declared his absolution.
Afterward, Lazaro began accompanying Don Manuel on his visits to the sick and to the school, becoming Don Manuel’s companion and collaborator. All the while, Lazaro began exploring Don Manuel’s deep, unfathomable soul. Lazaro revealed to Angela that Don Manuel’s greatest temptation was committing suicide in the village lake. Don Manuel believed he inherited this inclination from his own father, who had committed suicide when he was 90 years old. Don Manuel called his life “an act of continuous suicide, or a battle against suicide, which is the same thing,” and said to Lazaro that they should continue committing suicide for their people. In the days that followed, when Don Manuel learned that Lazaro, in his neophytic zeal, had preached against some villagers’ common superstitions, Don Manuel rebuked him, saying that it is better for villagers to believe everything than to not believe anything, as protesting destroys happiness. Another time, Don Manuel noticed a breeze from the mountain rippling the waters in the lake, and said to Lazaro, “The water is praying a litany, and now it says…door of heaven, pray for us!” At this, the two men fell to their knees and began to pray and weep.
Time passed, and Angela and Lazaro noticed that Don Manuel’s strength was beginning to falter, as though the deep sadness inside him could no longer be contained. Angela wondered whether a serious illness was consuming Don Manuel’s body and soul, and Lazaro proposed, in order to distract Don Manuel, that a consortium be set up between Catholics and the village’s agricultural groups. However, Don Manuel rejected this idea, saying that the world’s social, economic, and political problems are not what religious people are set out to solve. Rather, just as a leader of the Social Revolution called religion the opium of the people, Don Manuel insisted that they resign themselves to delivering opium unto the villagers, so that they may sleep and dream.
The second section begins with the formal introduction of Lazaro Carballino, Angela's older brother. Lazaro is immediately characterized as a zealous, stormy individual, and is also the first openly atheist character. With his return to Valverde de Lucerna bringing money from the New World, the tension in the story escalates dramatically and propels the plot's rising action. If Angela was a slight outsider in the village by virtue of her education, Lazaro is practically a full-blown foreigner who symbolizes the world's secular and progressive ideals; he insults the village, dismissing it as backward and rural, and attempts to move the family into the big city. When his mother refuses, Lazaro angrily lashes out, placing the blame chiefly upon Don Manuel, who he views as an oppressive threat to the family's freedom.
Upon meeting Don Manuel, however, even Lazaro cannot help but fall for the priest's kind disposition. It is not until they bond over Lazaro's mother's death, however, that Lazaro learns the truth about Don Manuel's atheism. The scene where Lazaro confesses Don Manuel's secret to Angela is the climax of the story; everything that follows this point in the story constitutes the falling action.
In this section, we see the motif of confessions being repeated throughout. Apart from Lazaro's climactic confession to Angela about Don Manuel, there are multiple confession scenes that follow between Angela, Lazaro, and Don Manuel. The idea of a confession is a compelling one, as it implies a secret truth being brought to light. This recurring motif draws attention to the fact that the nivola itself is Angela's confession, in the form of a memoir.
Under Don Manuel's guidance, Lazaro becomes a genuine supporter of the village priest's philosophy towards religion, coming to understand why Don Manuel chose to sacrifice truth for the villagers' comfort. Despite this, we see a moment where Lazaro acts as a foil to Don Manuel when Lazaro lectures against common village superstitions; even as a follower of Don Manuel, Lazaro has difficulty fully letting go of his former value of truth.
Finally, the section ends with one of Don Manuel's most controversial speeches, which addresses the role that religious officials must play in the larger world of socioeconomic and geopolitical problems. In stark contrast to Lazaro's fervent preoccupation with the issues of those struggling around the world, Don Manuel firmly asserts that it is not the place of religion to tackle such broad problems. Instead, he says, religion is meant to act as a soothing agent, an "opium," for the smaller families and communities that struggle within the world they occupy.