Miguel de Unamuno was one of the most highly celebrated and widely influential Spanish intellectuals of the twentieth century. In “San Manuel Bueno, martir” (1933; “Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr”), the story of a priest without faith, Unamuno grapples with his lifelong questioning of received religious and philosophical ideas.
“Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr” is narrated as a memoir of Angela Carballino, a woman in her fifties who reflects back upon her family’s experiences with Don Emmanuel, the priest of their remote mountain village. At the time of her writing, the Catholic Church has begun the process of proclaiming Don Emmanuel a saint. In her confessional story, Angela reveals Don Emmanuel’s true attitudes about religion. Over the years, during which she and her brother Lazarus become close associates of Don Emmanuel, his secret loss of faith in God is revealed to them. Angela’s memoir reveals a complex paradox at the heart of the priest’s outward devotion and inner loss of faith.
“Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr” explores religious and philosophical questioning about the meaning of life and death. Unamuno describes the experience of the man without faith as one of solitude, loneliness, and despair, while he suggests that religious faith is merely an illusion, maintained by the common man as a means of comfort against the desolation of a world without God or Heaven.