San Manuel Bueno, Martyr

San Manuel Bueno, Martyr Summary and Analysis of Section 3 + Epilogue


By the time the last Holy Week that Don Manuel would celebrate arrived, the whole village realized that Don Manuel was growing weak and would be gone soon. His voice, once miraculous, had become fragile and intimate, and he would become tearful at the slightest things. Blasillo the Fool began crying, and now cried more than he laughed, and even his laughter sounded like weeping. During Don Manuel’s final communion, he whispered into Lazaro’s ear that “there is no eternal life but this one, and may they always dream that it is eternal.” To Angela, he asked her to pray for all of them, and to pray for the Lord Jesus Christ. Angela arose feeling weak like a somnambulist, and everything around her seemed like a dream. She thought to herself that she must also pray for the lake, and for the mountain; then, she wondered if she could be possessed by the devil. Returning home, she took up the crucifix in her house and prayed: “May your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” and “let us not fall into temptation, amen.” To the image of the Lady of Sorrows, Angela offered another prayer, saying “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of our death, amen.” Afterwards, she wondered if the villagers were truly sinners, and what their sin could be.

The next day, Angela asked Don Manuel what their sin could be that they needed to atone for. Don Manuel answered that their sin was nothing more than having been born. When asked by Angela if there was a cure, Don Manuel said that Angela should pray for them, and in their hour of death, the dream will be cured, and the cross of being born will finally end. As the hour of his death approached, Don Manuel gathered Angela and Lazaro to see him at his house, as he was now paralyzed and could not walk.

There, Don Manuel gave his most important lesson: calling the villagers poor sheep, he asked that Angela and Lazaro take care of the village, and asked that when they die, they die in the bosom of the Holy Mother Church of Valverde de Lucerna. Don Manuel asked Angela that she keep praying for all the sinners, and to let all who are born keep dreaming. He reflected that when he was a child, he really did believe, as for a child, believing is nothing more than dreaming. He asked to be buried now with the six boards cut up from the walnut tree of his youth. Don Manuel went on to recount the story of Moses, who was denied entry by God to the Promised Land and died, leaving Joshua as the leader. Don Manuel then asked Lazaro to be his Joshua. In addition, because the Scripture says whoever sees the face of God will die without fail, Don Manuel asked Lazaro to ensure that the villagers do not see the face of God.

Don Manuel was carried to the church in his chair, with a crucifix in his hand. Blasillo the Fool was there, and he wanted desperately to give Don Manuel his hand, so that the saint could kiss it. Though the other villagers tried to stop him, Don Manuel admonished them and let Blasillo approach him, much to the Fool’s delight. With his last words, Don Manuel told the villagers to live in happiness, to wait for the day when they shall all see each other again in the Valverde de Lucerna of the stars, and to pray to the Virgin Mary. As the congregation began to recite the Lord’s Prayer, then the Ave Maria, followed by the Salve Regina, and the Creed, Don Manuel listened silently while holding the hand of Blasillo, who was beginning to fall asleep. By the time the Creed was over, the village knew that Don Manuel had offered his soul unto God. They were surprised, however, to find that Blasillo had also gone with him. After they buried the bodies, they returned to the Saint’s house to divide his possessions among them in order to have remembrance of their blessed martyr.

After Don Manuel’s death, no one could believe that the saint had truly passed away. Lazaro confessed to Angela that Don Manuel had made him a new man, a true Lazaro who was brought back from the dead. Don Manuel had given Lazaro faith, he said, faith in the joy of living. Lazaro went on to say there were two types of dangerous men: those who believe in an afterlife and scorn this transitory life, and those who deny others the consolation of another life. When the new priest arrived in Valverde de Lucerna, he came to Lazaro and Angela for guidance. Lazaro recommended that he preach “very little theology, just religion, religion”; however, Angela thought to herself that even this idea was a theology in itself.

However, Angela began to grow increasingly concerned for Lazaro, who had stopped doing anything since Don Manuel’s death and would spend all his time visiting Don Manuel’s grave or gazing at the lake. Lazaro confessed to Angela that Don Manuel told him that some of the greatest saints likely died not believing in the afterlife. Lazaro asked Angela to ensure that no one in the village ever suspects their secret, to which Angela exclaimed that even if she tried to explain their secret, the villagers would never understand it. Soon afterwards, Lazaro passed away as well, as if the same sickness that took Don Manuel had also claimed him. Before Lazaro died, he said that another piece of Don Manuel’s soul would die with him. Other pieces of his soul would live on with the other villagers, until one day all those who are currently living in the village die as well.

After the loss of Don Manuel, who was Angela’s spiritual father, and Lazaro, who was her physical and spiritual brother, Angela realized just how old she had become, and the reality that her death would soon approach as well. However, Angela in the present reflects that Don Manuel taught her how to live, to see the meaning of life, to immerse oneself in the soul of the lake and mountain and village. Angela says that she no longer lived in herself, but rather in her people, as she devoted herself to her village and her villagers.

Finally, as Angela wraps up her memoir, she says she believes that Don Manuel and Lazaro died thinking they did not believe while, paradoxically, believing it through their resigned, desolate unbelief. Though in the past Angela wondered why Don Manuel did not simply lie to Lazaro as he had to all the other villagers, she realizes now that Don Manuel knew that Lazaro could never be deceived. Instead, Don Manuel presented Lazaro the truth as a comedy—or rather, a tragedy—and thus won Lazaro over to his “pious fraud.” Now, Angela reveals she is over 50 years old, and her hair and memories are both whitening. She confesses that she does not know what is true or what is false, nor can she distinguish what she saw from what she dreamed. Angela questions whether anyone else in the village has these same thoughts and questions, or if she is alone. The Lord Bishop of the diocese of Renada has questioned her several times about Saint Manuel’s life, but he has never suspected the truth. After admitting that she is afraid of the authorities, both secular and Catholic, Angela ends the confession and says she will leave the document to fate.

Suddenly, the nivola enters its epilogue, and there is a shift in the narrative, as a new narrator begins to speak to the reader. The new narrator says that how this document of Angela Carballino's has come into their hands must be kept a secret. They say that they have presented the document as is, save for a few corrective edits. Additionally, they say that the fact that the document is similar to other things the narrator has written does not prove anything that contradicts its originality. The new narrator proclaims that they believe in Angela Carballino’s existence, more than she believed in her saint, and even more than they believe in their own reality.

Before concluding the epilogue, the new narrator recalls the ninth verse from the Epistle of Saint Jude the Apostle, where the narrator’s celestial patron, Archangel Michael, argued with the Devil over the body of Moses, telling the Devil: “God chastises you.” Since Angela also mixed her own thoughts in her storytelling, the new narrator wants to do the same, and they voice their agreement with Angela, saying that the villagers never would have understood the truth. The villagers of Valverde de Lucerna, the narrator says, care little about words and more about actions. Finally, with the note that novels are the most intimate and accurate stories, the narrator ends by saying that they hope everything in the novel endures—like lakes and mountains, like simple souls—in the divine novel of existence.


The section opens up with a tragic mood, as Don Manuel becomes weak and dies of old age. However, despite his physical death, Don Manuel can be seen as having triumphed in his battle against loneliness and suicide, as he is survived by two younger apprentices who will continue his methods in the village. As such, the section segues into the last and final part of the story, which focuses on the actions of Angela and Lazaro Carballino following Don Manuel's death.

Surprisingly, the villager who appears to take Don Manuel's death the hardest is none other than Lazaro. Initially, he calls himself an allusion to Lazarus, the biblical figure who was raised from the dead by Jesus, saying that he was taught the joy of living and, interestingly enough, "cured of his progressivism." Soon after, however, Lazaro mirrors Don Manuel's life by spending all his time gazing outwards into the lake. Seeing as how Don Manuel looked out upon the lake with thoughts of suicide, Angela begins to fear that Lazaro will take his own life. However, Lazaro soon also dies of old age and natural causes, paralleling Don Manuel's own fall perfectly.

Now, with Angela being the last surviving witness who knew the truth behind Don Manuel's saintly life, she spends her decades looking after the villagers and protecting them from atheism, just as Don Manuel requested of her. However, as she finshes her memoir, Angela says that she is no longer certain which of her memories are real and which were dreamt. In the end, she says, she will leave what happens to her memoir up to fate.

With the epilogue of the story, we learn that this entire memoir was in fact being presented to us by another narrator—a frame story that, coming only at the end, presents a kind of final "plot twist." The epilogical narrator says that, while he can't say how he acquired Angela's memoir, he assures that he did not fabricate it but only made certain "edits," although he does not clarify what this entails. As the story ends, the reader is left to ponder how much of the confession they just read was true. Ultimately, it is up to the reader to choose what they believe to be true—leaving us with only our faith, just like the characters in the story.