See caption
15th-century carving of a mermaid
Wikimedia Commons

The legend of the mermaid of Zennor, a village and civil parishSmallest administrative unit in England. in Cornwall, was first recorded by the Cornish folklorist William Bottrell in 1873.[1] Its inspiration is a carving on a 15th-century bench end in the parish church of St Senara, depicting a mermaid with her fish tail, long hair, and mirror. In one version of the legend a mermaid falls in love with a chorister, Matthew Trewhella, whose singing was so beautiful that she swam up a little stream from the shore and persuaded him to join her in the sea.[2]

In another version a beautiful, richly dressed woman was an occasional visitor to the church. Half the young men in the village fell in love with her, but nobody knew where she came from. Determined to find out, Mathey Trewella, one of the choristers, decided to follow her along the cliffs after she left the church, never to be seen again.[3]

See caption
The Mermaid of Zennor,
by John Reinhard Weguelin (1900)

Wikimedia Commons

Years later, a ship dropped anchor off Pendower Cove, near Zennor. The captain was standing on deck when a beautiful mermaid approached. She asked him if he would be so kind as to lift his anchor, as it was blocking the doorway to her house, and she was anxious to get back to her husband Mathey and their children. The captain did as she requested in some alarm, as mermaids were believed to bring bad luck to sailors. He told the people of Zennor of Mathey’s fate, and as a warning to other young men they had the mermaid figure carved into the bench.[3] It is said that the carving is on the very bench occupied by the beautiful, mysterious woman.[2]



Alexander, Marc. A Companion to the Folklore, Myths & Customs of Britain. Sutton Publishing, 2002.
Bottrell, William. Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall. Beare and Son, 1873.
Ventura, Varla. Among the Mermaids: Facts, Myths, and Enchantments from the Sirens of the Sea. Weiser Books, 2013.