Every day your memory grows dimmer
It doesn’t haunt me like it did before
I’ve been walking through the middle of nowhere
Trying to get to heaven before they close the door
Koeli – a Dutch word I only came to know much later. One thing is for sure: This church – yesterday seen a little from above, from the heights of the Castle in Leyden town – for each and every Leydener has always been and still is the Koeli Kerk, the Coolie Church.
Quite a while before I came to understand the meaning of the word koeli, I already knew why this rather strange name had been given to the edifice. Misspelled, because not properly understood; it is that simple.
COELI it says, not KOELI/COOLIE. However, those who gave it this name perhaps did know what koeli/coolie meant, which at the time I did not…
As a young first-year grammar schoolboy, I considered this a rather good reason to properly judge the stupidity of the working class of the town I lived in. Gone down the drains since the downfall of the Leyden cloth industry in the 19th century, it had never recovered.
The young Latinist immediately saw their silly mistake: Porta Coeli – the gate leading into Heaven, the church as the House of the Lord. Nonetheless, as all Leydeners did and still do, I also kept calling it the Koeli Kerk. Of course, its real name is Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
Towards the end of my grammar school period, with a strong wish to become a social philosopher, I had become a communist and now knew that a coolie is an East-Indies day-labourer and porter, perhaps even more generally an Asian worker, who was generally considered to be robber and a crook. Fine correlation, is what I thought. With such bold people we would certainly win the Revolution, as always in those days spelled with a capital R.
Added to this was the fact that not only from the outside, but more specifically its interior, this Koeli Kerk is so ugly that it reminds those in the know of Dante’s Hell. And what else might one expect from something classicistic, done in the 19th century, perhaps even mirroring the decay of the working class…
As far as the dulling of the revolutionary forces of the Working Classes was concerned -this as a result of bourgeois ideology, considered as ‘opium of and for the people’ of which Comrade (capital C!) Lenin had spoken such wise words – it wouldn’t come to all that. Inside such an ugly church the Workers (yes, indeed!) would easily overcome the blinding faith of their parents.
Meanwhile, like an old man, politically disenchanted, from this high Leyden castle I observe the Koeli Kerk in the distance. I feel all mellow and soft inside. Rather nice – as part of the urban scenery not bad at all.