Late in August, the island's natural wonders abound as they do every year: snakes swarm, ghosts walk, and St. Gerasimos prepares for his feast day. St. Gerasimos is unique in that he was a real saint who left his entire body to the Cephalonians. They open his sarcophagus on two feast days per year. Alekos makes his way down the mountain for the feast, and Velisarios hopes that he'll win the feast day race with the bull he borrowed from a cousin. The nuns dress inmates at the madhouse and wonder which one will be cured, as St. Gerasimos usually cures one mad person per year.
The fact that Alekos comes down the mountain for the feast day implies that he is a valued part of the community even if he's not an active part of it most of the time. The presence of these wonders begins to situate Cephalonia as someplace that's naturally a bit strange and absurd, which in turn sets the stage for other miraculous things to happen there later in the novel.
The church begins to fill with people and flowers. The narrator notes that despite the scenes of merriment, everyone is extremely anxious about the coming war. When Father Arsenios finishes his sermon, bearers carry the sarcophagus of the saint outside to a tree, around which the mad are assembled. One of the mad women who likes to expose herself, Mina, feels strangely calm. She stands and begins to lift her robe, but a nun pushes it down again. She thinks of the voices inside her head and the faces around her, which she knows are trying to kill her. She raises her skirts to hide her face from them, but she's never successful in hiding.
By offering the reader a glimpse into Mina's inner monologue, de Bernières again reinforces that it's these seemingly inconsequential stories that truly illustrate what life is like. In Mina's case in particular, it seems as though no one knows that she lifts her skirts to hide, not just to expose herself. This creates far more nuance and allows the reader to understand the many different ways that the feast day is meaningful for different people.
The bearers carry St. Gerasimos away and the crowd watches the madmen closely. One person points to a young epileptic man whose convulsions stopped. The crowd rejoices and the carnival begins. Velisarios shoots his cannon and musicians play. Fishermen sing as nuns arrange wine and food. Pelagia settles on a bench to watch the dancers and the traditional assembly of men dressed in absurd costumes. She notices a tap on her shoulder and Mandras is behind her. He drunkenly asks Pelagia to marry him. After a moment, she quietly agrees. Mandras leaps around and Pelagia discovers that he pinned her dress to the bench. He says they cannot be married until after the war, and Pelagia tells Mandras to speak to Dr. Iannis. She wanders around, feeling strangely unhappy.
Again, the fact that Pelagia is immediately unhappy after accepting Mandras's proposal foreshadows that their relationship isn't going to work out. Similarly, when Mandras pins her skirts to the bench, it symbolizes her feelings of being trapped by this relationship and by Mandras himself. This is reinforced later, when Dr. Iannis notes that Mandras would want to control Pelagia and not allow her to use her brain.
Mandras becomes extremely drunk before he can find Dr. Iannis. As evening approaches, everyone prepares for the race. Little boys ride goats, drunks sit on donkeys and horses, and Velisarios sits primly on his bull. The bull is the only creature to plod in the direction of the finish line, so Velisarios wins. He lifts the bull by the horns after he dismounts. As the crowd disperses, Mina finds herself back in the madhouse. When her uncle says goodbye to her, she brightly asks if he's taking her home--another miraculous cure by the saint.
In addition to providing a greater sense of nuance to the story of the feast day, focusing on Mina also allows the reader to understand that the "madmen" are actually people, not creatures who are subhuman or fundamentally unknowable. This reminds the reader that all people, regardless of who they are, are deserving of respect and dignity.