The Mermaid of Zennor is a popular Cornish Folk Tale that has captured the hearts of many over the years, including artists, poets and musicians. William Bottrell first recorded the legend in the 1873 text Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall.
The short version goes like this. The choristers of St. Senara have always been famed for their singing, however once upon a time they had a truly exceptional talent - a handsome young fellow called Matthew Trewella, whose voice was so beautiful that every service at the church would close with him singing the last hymn solo but other stranger folks were listening too. And his performances were so enchanting that a local mermaid would creep out of the sea and into the church to listen. However, one day, the handsome Matthew noticed his mystery admirer, and being as enchanted with her as she was with him, after one church service, he decided to follow her and so he followed her as she made her way down to the sea, to Pendour Cove, and there, so the old tales say, both vanished beneath the waves and never to be seen again. And hence, the carved chair in St. Senara's is the very seat where the mermaid would sit and listen to Matthew singing...
Years passed, and Matthew's disappearance was forgotten until a sailor who had lowered his anchor about a mile from Pendour Cove encountered a beautiful mermaid. She pleaded in her sing-song voice for the sailor to lift his anchor because it was blocking the entrance of her home wherein her husband and children were waiting for her return. Being a wise man and knowing the tales of troublesome mermaids, the sailor obliged and quickly sailed off. Once back on land, he told his story to the villagers of Zennor, all of whom soon came to realise that the woman Matthew had disappeared with all those years ago was the very mermaid the sailor spoke of.
A carving on one of the church's chairs depicting the Mermaid with long flowing hair, she carries a comb in her left hand and a mirror in her right; is said to have been etched into the wood to warn every church-going man of the dangers of mermaids and how easy it is to be led astray by their beauty.
The villagers of Zennor preserved this tale by passing it down through the generations and later onto William Bottrell. As to its origins, the legend was most likely inspired by the carving, which has its provenance in the 15th century, but it is unknown which truly came first. This fascinating Cornish legend now remains firmly entrenched into local lore.