Memories of Coleridge Day
On June 2nd, St Michael’s was host to a unique rededication of the church to the remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and members of his family, entombed in our crypt 57 years earlier on June 6th 1961. Their current resting place has been acknowledged as unsuitable and unfitting for a poet of his stature, and our ceremony marked the start of a campaign to secure sufficient funding to refurbish their tombs, and the crypt in which they lie.
The ceremony involved some of the country’s foremost academics in the study of Coleridge’s works: Malcolm Guite, the poet-priest and chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, and Seamus Perry, Professor of English Literature at Oxford University.
It also brought together enthusiastic advice and support from Highgate School, near whose chapel the poet was originally interred in 1834, and the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution whose renowned Coleridge Room was opened specially for the near-200 guests who attended on the day. With equal generosity Highgate School’s Henley Henley-Smith guided visitors around the undercroft of the present School Chapel and the original tomb whence the poet and his family were translated in 1961.
But the day was more than a rededication: it was a reunion of the present-day living Coleridge family with themselves and their ancestors in the church which is now their home. And as well as a celebration of the poet’s literature, it was also a celebration of his spiritual journey, his Christianity and his belief in the Church of England. It has been suggested that it was indeed at St Michael’s, built two years before his death, where he finally reconciled himself to the Anglican Communion.
It was a reconciliation justly captured in the Reverend Kunle Ayodeji’s moving service where he praised God “for the inspiration of your servant Samuel Taylor Coleridge, poet and author, whom we remember this day.
“Illuminate and inspire we beseech you the writers of our age, That their works may glorify you, hallow your name,
And advance your kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
With thanksgiving to God, And in memory of Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
We rededicate this memorial stone; In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost,
Further on, the stirring hymns Jerusalem and He who would true valiant be replicated the 1961 service then led by the Revd Harry Edwards, and were beautifully expressed in the music and voices of St Michael’s choir. Director of Music Paul Dean also paid tribute to the 1961 event by following in the footsteps of Ivor R. Davies – choirmaster of the day – by composing a unique choral work himself based on Coleridge’s poem The Kiss.
The Day wasn’t only moving, uplifting, joyous and instructive. It was also a day of great fun! We hope the pictures below will give a sense of all those aspects of June 2 for those who weren’t able to attend, and serve to prompt delightful memories in the hearts of all those who did.
Especial thanks go to Kimberley Gray of KTB Photography, a member of our congregation who kindly took these photographs for us. Those who would like to see all the available prints please go to https://photographybyktb.pixieset.com/stc/ All proceeds go to the Campaign Fund.
Richard Coleridge making his introductions on behalf of the direct descendants and wider Coleridge family tells guests how much has been done recently to sustain the poet’s wide international appeal. Of STC’s drug dependency, Richard, a Metropolitan Police Officer, said: “People have often referred to Coleridge’s addiction as having an influence on his ability to write poetry. Well in reply to anyone who makes that claim I say this. In my profession, I have seen enough people under the influence to know an addiction to drugs will not make a poet out of you. With Coleridge, I believe it simply helped to unlock what was already there. A genius.”
Justin Shepherd from The Friends of Coleridge, Malcolm Guite, speaker. Sam Coleridge the poet’s x4 grand-nephew and partner sit alongside Rosie Coleridge-Middleton, his x4 granddaughter, and her son Rob.
Henley Henley-Smith from Highgate School conducts visitors towards the site where Coleridge, and subsequently four further members of his family were originally interred from 1834 onwards.
Guests visit the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution’s room dedicated to the poet and examine some of the rare books and artefacts it holds.
Guests in the crypt of the present-day Highgate School Chapel. The poet’s original tomb is on the left.
Lord and Lady Coleridge with their daughter and the Mayor of Camden, Jenny Headlam-Wells in front of St Michael’s magnificent altar.
Richard and Sam Coleridge greet each other in church. Their x4 great grandfathers were the brothers Samuel Taylor, and James Coleridge.
Rosemary Coleridge Middleton and her son Rob - direct descendants of the poet. Rosemary, in her speech, spoke movingly of Coleridge’s wife: “Great Grandmama, Sarah Fricker as she was known. Yes, she had an `H’ to her name. If you remove it,” she warned, “you condone STC’s complicity in his infidelity with Sarah Hutchinson!”.
Poetry performer Lance Pierson recites Kubla Khan over the poet’s grave. Lance was baptised in St Michael’s, and is chairman of the John Betjeman Society.
Ian Enters from the Friends of Coleridge reciting poetry from the later Coleridge, composed in Highgate, as well as words from his great work Biographia Literaria.
Sheer delight! Kunle Ayodeji, vicar of St Michaels, snapping a selfie against a backdrop of the entire Coleridge clan…