Legend has it that many, many years ago a richly dressed and beautiful lady occasionally attended the church at Zennor. Nobody knew who she was or where she came from, but her unusual beauty and lovely voice made her the subject of much discussion.
She appeared infrequently for scores of years, but never seemed to age, and nobody knew from where she came, although they watched her from the summit of Tregarthen Hill.
With such beauty, the lady had no shortage of want-to-be suitors in the village. One of these local men was Mathew Trewella, a handsome young fellow with the best singing voice in the village. He took it upon himself to discover who this beautiful stranger was.
After a service one Sunday, the lady had smiled at Mathew Trewella so he had decided to follow her as she made her way off and towards the cliffs.
He never returned to Zennor.
Years passed and Mathew Trewella’s unexplained disappearance faded into the past. Then one Sunday morning a ship cast anchor off Pendower Cove near Zennor. The vessel’s captain was sitting on deck when he heard a beautiful voice hailing him from the sea. Looking over the side of the ship he saw a beautiful mermaid, with her long, blonde hair flowing all around her.
She asked him if he would be so kind as to raise his anchor as it was resting upon the doorway of her house. She explained was anxious to get back to her husband, Mathew, and her children. For it turns out that the beautiful stranger from the church was in fact one of the daughters of Llyr, king of the ocean, a mermaid by the name of Morveren.
Warey of stories of Mermaids the captain weighed anchor and headed for deeper water fearing the mermaid would bring the ship bad luck. He did, however, return later to tell the townsfolk of the fate of Mathew. It was to commemorate the strange events and as a warning to other young men of the dangers of merry maids that the mermaid was carved into the church pugh.
According to a slightly different version of the tale, Morveren was drawn to the church by Mathew’s beautiful voice and would dress as a human and listen at the back of the church. Every night at evensong the mermaid would come to hear him until one night as Mathew sang a particularly lovely verse Morveren let out a tiny sigh.
Although it was as quiet as a whisper Mathew stopped and turned – Morveren’s eyes were shining, and the net had slipped from her head and her hair was wet and gleaming – It was love at first sight.
The mermaid was frightened and made her way back to the sea with Mathew (and a fair few of the townsfolk) in pursuit. In her haste to get back to the sea Morveren became tangled in her dress and tripped. Mathew now saw the tip of her fish tail poking out from beneath the dress.
“I cannot stay. I am a sea creature, and must go back where I belong.”
But it didn’t matter to him.
“Then I will go with ye. For with ye is where I belong.”
With that Mathew picked up Morveren and ran into the sea never to be seen by the folk of Zennor again. However that doesn’t mean they never heard him again.
He would sing soft and high if the day was to be fair, deep and low if Llyr was going to make the seas rough. From his songs, the fishermen of Zennor knew when it was safe to put to sea, and when it was wise to anchor snug at home.
The “mermaid chair” at St. Senara’s Church can be seen to this day, and together with the accompanying legend, is one of the popular attractions mentioned in tourist guides to Cornwall.
In the church carved on the end of one of the wooden benches is a figure of a mermaid. Depicted with long flowing hair, holding a mirror in one hand and a comb in the other is the Mermaid of Zennor.