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The Mermaid of Zennor

The Mermaid of Zennor

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The Mermaid of Zennor is a little more morally ambiguous: did she lure Matthew Trewhella to his death, or was he transformed into a merman himself so they could live a happy life together under the sea? Here, there are stories and whispers of a villager capturing the heart of a mysterious and beautiful stranger from the sea … a mermaid! Whatever form their legs may take, the folklore surrounding mermaids across the globe agrees on their ability to disguise themselves as human. In the simplest version, recollected on a small laminate in the village church, Mathew Trewella was the parish’s greatest singer.

Each culture has their own variation on this legend, from the ‘Sirens’ of Ancient Greece, the ‘Melusine’ of Normandy, to the ‘Mami Wata’ spirits of West, Central, and Southern Africa.

When Senara became pregnant, the king's mother falsely accused her of infidelity, and the king cast her into the sea.

The Mermaid of Zennor ( Cornish: An Vorvoren a Senar) is a popular Cornish folk tale that was first recorded by the Cornish folklorist William Bottrell in 1873.Every week she would leave the depths of the sea to listen to the lad, who finally fell for her scaly ways with a mermaidy flick of her tail and an equally alluring song. Perhaps that’s why when the Reformation swept through Cornwall thousands died in rebellion but protestants allowed the mermaid bench to remain in Zennor untouched. Many years ago, when people still believed in ghosts and monsters, a mysterious woman came to visit the church of Zennor. Two ways of telling the same story: a church postcard (left) and a photo from St Senara's at night (right).

The most recognisable is the classic fish tail, but in many areas, such as Western Europe and Africa, mermaids are imagined with the tail of a serpent.

Initially, she didn’t dare get any closer than the rocks at Pendour Cove near the village, but as the week’s went on she grew bolder and finally became so brave she dressed as a noblewoman and attended a church service. The Doom Bar is at it’s most perilous between the tides when it is submerged by just a few feet causing unsuspecting mariners to become stranded or in storms, shipwrecked. While each incarnation of the mermaid legend agrees on being female from the waist upwards, the most notable difference between depictions of mermaids across cultures is the form of their legs. The captain wanted very much to leave, but he had to tell the people of the village about what happened. One fine Sunday morning in Zennor church, perched on the cliffs of Penwith, the choir and congregation were ready for service when through the church door came a strange lady of unearthly beauty.

She smiled as if she had been expected him, and took his arm; and thus they left the churchyard together.The present church dates to the 12th century, but it is thought to stand on the site of a cell founded by the 6th century saint, Senara, whose name has been altered over the centuries to become 'Zennor'.

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