MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF ZENNOR
The tale of the mermaid and Matthew Trewella is the most famous of the Zennor legends, but there are several other local stories.
The name Zennor is believed to derive from St. Senara, the Breton princess Azenor who was falsely accused by her husband, and thrown into the sea in a barrel and floated to Ireland, founding Zennor along the way. An alternative legend holds that she was Irish and she and her sister Ia floated to Cornwall on a lettuce leaf. They became separated and Ia became St. Ia of St Ives and Senara became the saint of our parish. Of course, a lettuce leaf could easily have been a coracle, still used in Wales to this day.
Delving more deeply into prehistory, we find the myth of the giant of Carn Galva which rises, proud as a mountain ‘in every respect except stature’ on the westerly fringe of the parish. He is sometimes called Holiburn and the striking outcrop of granite that tops the carn still bears the name Hannibal’s Carn. The giants who peopled the peninsula before humankind were generally a brutal and ignorant bunch, but Holiburn was more playful than cruel, and he used to defend the men and women of Zennor valiantly against incursions by the less honest giants who dwelt on Lelant hills.
Holiburn was good friends with a fine young fellow who often arrived to play a game of ‘bob’ or quoits with the lonely giant. However, when saying goodbye after a match, Holiburn lightly tapped the lad on the head in farewell, only to find that his huge fingers had smashed into his skull, and he dropped dead at his feet. Holiburn was mortified. He never rejoiced any more, but pined gradually away. Before he died he gathered a pile of rocks to hurl at the giants of Trink and Trecobben, should they attack his beloved people of Zennor. Some say that, if they are ever in mortal danger, Holiburn will rise from his eternal sleep to defend them to the death.
The giants gradually faded from power but humankind continued to live alongside the little people or faery folk. The legend of Cherry of Zennor tells this story. Cherry was a poor but happy girl, one of twelve. Turning sixteen she grew discontented with her poverty and envied the ribbons of her friends as they skipped off to Morvah Fair. She resolved to leave Zennor to seek employment and gain such riches. But at Ladydowns crossroads she became fearful, having never been away from home before. Suddenly a handsome man appeared and invited her to become his housekeeper and care for his little son. The landscape seemed suddenly beautiful, as did the man’s house. Cherry had pretty garments and delicious food and was very happy. The presence of an ugly, misshapen old woman, Aunt Prudence, was the only unpleasant aspect of her new life, but her master assured Cherry that Prudence would be gone when she became familiar with her duties. Apart from household work, her chief task was to bathe the boy’s eyes at the spring and apply a special ointment to them every morning, but with care never to apply it to herself. The ointment made the child’s eyes glitter strangely.
Cherry was consumed with curiosity and eventually succumbed to it and applied a tiny speck to her own eyes. She looked into the spring and saw it was full of little people including her master. When she confessed, he was saddened but said she would have to go home as punishment for her disobedience. Suddenly she was back at Ladydowns in her ragged clothes again. She was never the same girl and every night Cherry would wander the moors looking for the master she loved, but he never came again.
On the borderland between legend and history, it is said that Prince Arthur and four British kings came through Zennor on their way to do battle with the Danes, and they rested on the large, flat stone with a cross on it that marks the place that the four parishes of Zennor, Madron, Gulval and Morvah meet. They collected an army of Cornishmen and achieved a great victory at the battle of Vellan-drucchar (wheel-mill) moor. The Danes were nearly all killed, and, so great was the slaughter, that “the mill was worked with blood”…. or so the legend goes.