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  • By Kara Newcastle

Myth Monday: The Mermaid Bride (English Folktale)

Myth Monday: The Mermaid Bride (English Folktale)

The Mermaid of Zennor, by English painter John Reinhard Weguelin (1849-1927). Watercolour, 1900.

If you ever visit England, try to work a side trip to the village of Zennor, Cornwall. More specifically, go to the church of St. Senara and take a look at a particular chair they keep in an alcove there. You might think that a chair is nothing to get worked up about, but it might interest you to know that the chair is about 500 years old, and is said to have been made to commemorate a fantastical love story—between a mermaid and a human man.

Zennor Mermaid Chair by tom oates sept 2007

Five hundred years ago, the Church of St. Senara was the parish of the villagers of Zennor. The villagers all knew each other … except that, occasionally, a very beautiful woman would slip into the church and sit with them. No one knew who she was, but all were amazed by her singing. She had the most beautiful voice, it was almost mesmerizing to hear. As soon as services were conducted, the woman would slip out the door before anyone else and vanish.

In time, Mathew Trehwella, the handsome son of a local squire, joined the church and became renowned for his own incredible singing ability. His talent did not go unnoticed by the mysterious woman, and she was seen watching him with entranced, wistful eyes. Mathew would look back at her too and they sang together, their voices rising above the congregation’s.

Pendour Cove by Tony Atkin

Little did anyone know, but the woman was actually a mermaid named Morveren, and she would emerge out of the waters of nearby Pendour Cove in order to join the humans in their singing. Upon meeting Mathew Trehwella, Morveren fell in love with the handsome youth and visited the church nearly every Sunday to see him. When she couldn’t, she would sit upon the boulders on the shore and sing up to Mathew—and he would sing back.

One day after church, Mathew followed a stream down to the cove. After that day, neither he nor the unknown woman was ever seen again. Many wondered what could have befallen such a talented man, but several years after his disappearance, a ship dropped anchor in Pendour Cove. Almost immediately, a beautiful mermaid surfaced and asked the petrified sailors to raise the anchor, as it was blocking her way to her children. Knowing mermaids to be dangerous, the sailors quickly obliged, but upon returning to town and regaling the locals with their tale, people realized that the mermaid’s description sounded very much like that of the mysterious woman who used to visit their church. They realized that she must have taken Mathew Trehwella down to her undersea kingdom and married him.

Moved by the event, the villagers of Zennor constructed a chair and carved an image of Morveren the mermaid into the backrest, placing it in the church where the two lovers met. And to this day, the townsfolk will tell you that if you listen carefully on an early summer’s night, you can hear Morveren and Mathew joyfully singing to each other from beneath the waves.

The Mermaid by Howard Pyle

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