For some 1,400 years, a church dedicated to St. Senara has stood in the village of Zennor in Cornwall. The stone structure that can be found in the village today was built between the 13th and 15th centuries, and includes a tower and a small graveyard. Inside, visitors can find one of the most intriguing features: a bench-end with carvings of fish on the seat and a woman admiring herself in a mirror known as the “Mermaid Chair.”
According to a local tale, in times long, long ago a beautiful and richly dressed woman would occasionally attend services at the church. She would appear from time to time over the course of many years, but never seemed to age. Locals noted her beauty and her lovely singing voice, but no one knew where she came from. Eventually, the mysterious woman came to fancy the churchwarden’s son, a young man named Mathew Trewella. One day Matthew followed her home, and the two were never seen again.
One day at Pendower Cove, a mermaid appeared to an anchored ship and asked them to move the anchor, as it was blocking her door and preventing access to her husband and children. The mysterious woman turned out to be Morveren, one of the daughters of Llyr, king of the ocean, in Cornish folklore. The villagers then knew their mystery visitor had taken Matthew Trewella to the sea.
The wooden seat dates back to the 15th century. It is carved from oak, and depicts a woman with long hair and a curvaceous figure, but in place of human legs she has a scaly tail with fins. In her hands the mermaid holds a comb and a mirror.
One version of the story says that the bench was carved to commemorate the events, and to warn other young men who may be tempted by mysterious women. Another version says that the mermaid chair was the very bench on which the mystery woman would sit as she sang in church, prior to enticing young Mathew away from his home.