Over 184 years after his death, the crypt of celebrated English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge has been rediscovered in a wine cellar in north London. One might wonder how an entire crypt can be lost, especially one housing the remains of such an important figure, but it is actually easier than you think to lose track of an over century-old coffin.
When he died at age 61 in July of 1834, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was buried near his home at the chapel of Highgate school. Over a century later, in 1961, his vault was in poor condition, according to The Guardian, and his coffin was relocated to St. Michael with the help of an international fundraising appeal. Poet laureate John Masefield gave an address at the translation (the ecclesiastic term for moving or reburying a coffin in a new location) and unveiled a plaque honoring Coleridge. Despite the publicity around the reburial, somehow, the exact location of Coleridge's resting place was entirely forgotten. It wasn't until a recent excavation at the church that his crypt was rediscovered in a 17th-century wine cellar behind a brick wall at St. Michael's, the parish church of Highgate village in north London.
Coleridge's final resting place may have been forgotten, but he wasn't alone in the wine cellar. His lead coffin was rediscovered alongside his wife and daughter, both named Sara, his son-in-law, and his grandson. “It has been said that you could see it as appropriate, but it is not in a very fitting state for him, and the family would support the plans to improve it,” Richard Coleridge, the poet’s great-great-great-grandson, told The Guardian.
Best known for his poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and "Kubla Khan," Coleridge is one of England's most beloved literary figures. Not only did he write popular poetry, but he was also a celebrated critic, philosopher, and theologian. Along with William Wordsworth, Coleridge was one of the leaders of the Romantic Movement, and was a member of the Lake Poets, a group of famed English poets who lived in England's Lake District that included Robert Southey and Charles Lamb.
Despite his success, Coleridge lived a troubled life. His addiction to alcohol and opium was well known and documented, as was his crippling anxiety and depression. Although he struggled with mental illness his entire adult life — some have speculated that he had bipolar disorder, an illness that had not been identified in his lifetime — Coleridge was an extremely influential poet while he was alive, and continues to be an inspiration to artists today. Several of his poems, including "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," have been adapted into films or turned into songs. The popular 1970s rock band Rush's most classic "Xanadu" is said to have been inspired by Coleridge's "Kubla Khan." To this day, Coleridge is cited as one of England's most beloved poets, and although he has been dead (and mostly lost) for over a century, literary lovers still like to pay their respects to the influential artist at the existing memorial plaque at St. Michael's church. Soon enough, they will be able to do it at his actual resting place.
If you want to make a pilgrimage to Coleridge's crypt, you might want to hold off for now. Currently, the only way to see it is by venturing down to the church's cellar, which is at present a mess of bricks and dust. According to the vicar, Kunle Ayodeji, it isn't safe or convenient to the public. However, the church plans to change that soon by restoring the crypt so the space can be used for meetings, and so visitors can pay their respects to one of England's most notable poets.
To help raise money for the cellar restoration project, the church is planning a special Coleridge day in June aptly titled Reclaim the Crypt. The celebration will include recitals, readings, and lectures, and several of the famed poet's family members are expected to be in attendance.