Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr by Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo

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Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr Summary

Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr, written by Miguel de Unamuno in 1930, is a “nivola.” "Nivola" is Unamuno’s own made-up term meant to contrast with the realistic “novelas" written by his contemporaries.

Unamuno tells the story of Emmanuel of the fictional town of Valverde de Lucerna. The town is located at the foot of a tall mountain and the edge of a beautiful lake, which is rumored to hide the ruins of an ancient city.

The story is narrated by Angela Carballino. She is one of the townspeople, and she looks back on what she knows of Emmanuel as he is being considered for sainthood by the Bishop of Renada for his good works. Angela tells the bishop facts about Emmanuel’s service to the people of Valverde de Lucerna but withholds information about his lack of faith in eternal life. Angela’s brother, Lazaro, returns to the small Spanish town from the New World. He is impressed by the priest’s acts of compassion but lacks faith in the spiritual message. When the mother of Angela and Lazaro is on her deathbed, she makes her son promise to pray for her, and he agrees. After time spent in the company of Emmanuel, Lazaro eventually takes Communion. The people of the town assume he is now a believer. However, he has adopted the priest’s view of the need for religion despite not believing in the resurrection.

Shortly after taking Communion, Lazaro confesses to his sister about his and Emmanuel’s lack of faith. She is upset and at first in denial over this revelation. Emmanuel then begins a descent into weakness and depression, struggling with the burden of teaching that which he does not believe. His public death in the center of town has Christlike undertones. Lazarus takes up his role in the community, and his sister, Angela, moves away. She maintains an optimistic view that both the priest and her brother were potentially agents of God’s will all along because their system of disbelief still led them to do good works.


(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In Miguel de Unamuno’s Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr (also known as Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr), the titular protagonist is a priest who lives an outward life of devotion to church and community while struggling with an inner life filled with doubt about a tenet of his Roman Catholic faith: a belief in life after death. The novella is a story within a story. The narrator, Angela Carballino, more than fifty years old, writes down the secret of Don Manuel’s inner life when she hears that the local bishop seeks to canonize him. She never intends the bishop to see the manuscript that she calls a “confession.” The epilogue reveals that it was mysteriously given to Unamuno.

Angela first recalls herself at ten and Don Manuel at thirty-seven, the new pastor of the Roman Catholic Church and a newcomer to the village who gave up a brilliant career in the Church to help his widowed sister care for her sons. When Angela returns from a convent school in the city five years later, Don Manuel is as necessary to the village as the mountain and the lake that border it. He tirelessly mends marriages as well as torn clothes and attends the sick and dying as well as the celebrating. He is especially kind to the mentally disabled Blasillo. Don Manuel’s voice moves the villagers, especially during Mass on Good Friday, because it sounds as if it were Jesus Christ speaking. As Blasillo wanders the village, he imitates Don Manuel’s voice speaking the most moving words of Christ’s Passion: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” However, each time the congregation recites the Creed, Don Manuel’s voice disappears on the lines about belief in the resurrection.

Angela becomes his “deaconess.” She helps him with his pastoral duties in the village. When Angela is twenty-four, her brother Lazarus returns to the village from America. He intends to use his fortune to take Angela and her mother to live in the city, away from the “feudal backwater” of the country. Instead, Angela’s mother dies, but not before Don...

(The entire section is 1,985 words.)