Remains of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge rediscovered in wine cellar

The remains of celebrated poet, critic and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge have been rediscovered in a former wine cellar in north London which was subsequently incorporated into the crypt of a nearby church.

Image: wikipedia

According to a report in The Guardian the remains of Coleridge as well as those of his wife Sara, his daughter, also called Sara, his son-in-law and grandson were all rediscovered in the crypt of St Michael’s church in Highgate.

Part of the crypt was once the wine cellar of the now demolished mansion Ashhurst House, and the crypt remains half-full of rubble from the demolition. The church, which was built in 1831, now plans to clear the rubble from the crypt and restore it.

“It has been said that you could see it as appropriate [that Coleridge’s coffin was left in an old wine cellar], but it is not in a very fitting state for him, and the family would support the plans to improve it,” said Richard Coleridge, the poet’s great-great-great-grandson, a police officer based in Newham.

“From a safety point of view it would be quite impossible to bring members of the public down here. But we hope that the whole crypt can be cleared as a space for meetings and other uses, which would also allow access to Coleridge’s cellar. I don’t think we would open up a view of the coffins, but we could place a suitable inscription on the wall,” vicar Kunle Ayodeji told The Guardian.

Coleridge’s body was originally buried in a vault in Highgate churchyard on 2 August 1834. The vault fell into disrepair after it became incorporated into the new chapel for Highgate School, and Coleridge’s body was moved in 1961 and reinterred in St Michael’s Church.

Over the years, however, the exact location of his coffin, and those of his family, was forgotten. It was not until a recent excavation which revealed the entrance to the wine vault that Coleridge’s lead coffin was rediscovered. Rather than the far corner of the crypt, where it was assumed the coffins were placed, Coleridge’s body was actually almost directly under the inscription which reads ‘Beneath this stone lies the body of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’.

“That was a bit of a clue really,” said Drew Clode, a member of St Michael’s stewardship committee.“Poor Coleridge was moved from a tip to a tip – they put the coffins in a convenient space which was dry and secure, and quite suitable, bricked them up and forgot about them, and never did anything about the rest of the space”.

Coleridge (1772-1834), author of poems such as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, was a key pioneer of literary Romanticism along with his friend William Wordsworth.

During his life he was blighted by poor health and depression. Known for being a heavy drinker, he also became addicted to laudanum and died at the age of 61 in July 1834.

After rediscovering his coffin, St Michael’s Church is holding a ‘Coleridge Day’ in June to raise money for the restoration of the crypt.

Coleridge is not the only famous patron of the arts whose body has an unusual connection to alcohol. Last year, scientists finally determined the cause of death of celebrated composer Frédéric Chopin after being granted rare access to his heart that has been preserved in a jar of Cognac. The jar itself was interred in a church pillar in Warsaw.

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