Saturday, April 8, 2017

Medieval Mermaids: The Zennor Mermaid

Mermaid bench, St. Senara's Church, wood, embroidery, 15th century, Zennor, Cornall.

In the small village of Zennor in Cornwall, England in St. Senara's Church, you'll find a beautifully carved wooden bench whose end pieces probably date from the 15th century.  The carving shows a mermaid holding what looks like a mirror and a comb (historical mermaids really loved combing their hair).

The story of the mermaid behind the carving was first recorded by the Cornish folklorist William Bottrell in 1873.  The folktale says that she appeared at St. Senara's Church as an elegantly dressed lady, who loved to sing with the parishioners during their services. Her sweet voice enchanted the congregation and they always remembered when she visited though it was often years between her visits. And though many years passed, she never seemed to age.

One visit, a young man named Mathey Trewella caught her eye and ear with his own melodious singing voice. After the service, they went for a walk together, and he wasn't seen in the village again. People wondered what had happened to the pair, until some time later a ship anchored in Pendour Cove was addressed by a mermaid requesting the ship raise anchor because it rested on her front door and she couldn't reach her children. Based on this encounter the townspeople concluded that Trewella had gone to live with the mermaid in the cove.

Cornish poet Charles Causley wrote a picture book retelling this tale, The Merrymaid (Mermaid) of Zennor, illustrated by Michael Foreman

The Merrymaid of Zennor, Charles Causley, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Orchard Press, 1999.

The Merrymaid/Mermaid of Zennor is available for purchase on Amazon and Amazon UK.

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