Juan Martínez de San Millán was Bishop of León from 1564 to 1578, when he died and was buried in what is now St Marina’s Church.
It is to him that we owe the arrival in León of the Jesuits and the fund for them to set up a school with free teaching of Latin and rhetoric. The school was complemented with one of elementary education set up by the Council and a Chair of Grammar established by the Cathedral Chapter in an annex to the church in 1571.
Until the middle of the 17th century, education was private and administered by the laity, but later the Corporation decided on more than one occasion that the Society of Jesus would be the solution for the lack of teachers who could teach both children and adults to read and write and also set them on the straight and narrow. Years later in the terms of an agreement between the Council and the Jesuit school, the city would build and furnish two classrooms and a playground, while the Jesuits undertook not to charge the children who wished to attend the school, which bore the city arms. (Different agreements were reached in 1613, 1642, 1667 and 1669.)
Twenty years later the agreements were broken for a number of reasons, although the school would continue, financed by a special tax. Since then, the Council has taken an especial interest in education, culminating in the setting up in 1853 of a local public education committee by means of a Royal Order of the Ministry of Grace and Justice and the creation in 1864 of an infants’ school.
The memory of Bishop San Millán remained in the city for many years in the shape of the school. Furthermore, he himself had sought to honour the saint from La Rioja whose name he bore (Millán = Emilianus) and endowed a celebration in the saint’s name at the Cathedral in 1578. The public procession made by the Chapter from the Cathedral to the Jesuit school, now St Marina’s Church, is joined by the Corporation: “In recognition of
this the Great Church and the City come in procession once a year to our school, when a the sermon is given to thank the holy pastor who so carefully attended his flock.” The tradition disappeared in the 18th century.
In 1999 the tradition was reinstated and the old vow was remembered with a new ceremony to remind us of the bishop’s work and the corporation’s commitment to public education.