When the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge died in 1834, he was buried in the chapel of Highgate School near his final home in the north London village. There he lay with other members of his family for more than a century until 1961. That year the coffins of Coleridge, his wife, daughter, son-in-law, and grandson, were moved to St Michael’s Church on Highgate Hill amidst much fanfare.
But in the ensuing decades the exact location of Coleridge’s tomb in the church had been forgotten. An excavation has now uncovered the poet’s final resting place behind a brick wall enclosing one end of a seventeenth-century cellar. The church itself dates from 1831. The Coleridge vault is in the former wine cellar of the 1696 Ashurst House that had earlier occupied the location, and was incorporated into the church basements. According to St Michael’s website: “Covered in dust and barely distinguishable from the rubble in which they repose, the five coffins are bricked solidly into the rear portion of this wine cellar, barely visible through the grille of one of two air vents.” It is, apparently, “a rather dangerous, rubble-strewn area of the church.”
Now St Michael’s is launching a fundraiser to restore the cellar and vault and build a resource center. A program of events will be held on June 2:
[T]wo distinguished authorities on Coleridge—Malcolm Guite and Seamus Perry have kindly agreed to provide addresses on Coleridge’s spirituality and his life in Highgate. Malcolm is Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge and author of Mariner: A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Hodder 2017). Seamus is Professor of English Literature, University of Oxford and Fellow of Balliol College.
Meanwhile a distinguished local poetry performer, Lance Pearson; members of the Friends [of Coleridge], and hopefully descendants of STC himself will recite some of his words and poems. A tour of Coleridge’s Highgate will include a visit to the HSLI’s Coleridge Room, and a limited tour of the crypt and burial area beneath our church.
Tickets are £40 for a good cause. More information on the church website here.