Saint Manuel Bueno, Martyr

by Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Angela Carballino

Angela Carballino narrates the story, reflecting on what she knows of Don Manuel. She first encounters him as a young woman and reflects on his impact as a much older woman. Despite learning of the priest’s lack of faith in the resurrection, her own faith is not shaken. Her name, which means "angel," is also significant. She is an angelic character who tells the story through innocent and trusting eyes. When she goes to Don Manuel to express her religious concerns, she takes comfort in his perceived piety. In her youthful naivete, she believes Don Manuel to be the pinnacle of faithfulness. When she eventually learns of his own struggles with religion and Catholicism, she loses some of her childlike innocence that contributed to placing Don Manuel on a pedestal. She still vies for his sainthood, though, and even came to believe that Don Manuel's and her brother Lazaro’s lack of belief that guided them to good acts was, ironically, its own sort of belief. 

Don Manuel

Don Manuel, the title character, is being considered by the Catholic Church for sainthood. From appearances, his acts of mercy, compassion, and grace elevate him to holy status. He cares for the poor, the sick, and the suffering, and brings healing and comfort wherever he goes. People flock to his masses just to hear him speak; villagers are healed by mere proximity to him. However, Angela and her brother discover that beneath this saintly exterior lies a lack of faith in the church’s teachings. Don Manuel does not believe in eternal life after death. He agrees with the Marxist proposition that religion is the opiate of the masses but sees this “opiate” as a beneficial source of comfort that improves the lives of those he serves. 

The name Don Manuel, or Emmanuel, means “God with us” and is used in reference to the Messiah. The townspeople see the priest as their Messiah, and his public death resonates as a Christlike act. He challenges—however privately—the notion of an all-encompassing faith that answers all questions about human life and the afterlife. He encourages the importance of a belief system to ease and comfort people. Religion, in his eyes, is a “necessary falsehood” that offers meaning. Don Manuel firmly believes that idleness is humanity’s enemy: he prompts those around him to remain industrious in their thoughts and actions. Don Manuel himself remains so busy because he is lonely, and he seeks to avoid his thoughts. He poses an interesting paradox and might even act as a foil to Christ: he makes believers out of those around him even though he himself is doubtful. 

Lazaro Carballino

Angela’s brother, Lazaro, forms an unlikely camaraderie with the town’s priest when he returns home from the New World. He realizes that Don Manuel shares his lack of belief. Lazaro eventually adopts the priest’s perspective on the role of religion and follows in his footsteps, even taking on the priest’s role after Don Manuel’s death. The Biblical character Lazarus was a friend of Jesus who was raised from the dead. Ironically, this character is named for a figure whose notable resurrection inspired Jesus’s disciples to believe in the afterlife, but Don Manuel and Lazaro lack the belief themselves.

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