Saint Senara

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Saint Senara
St Senara's Church, Zennor - - 783236.jpg
St Senara's Church in Zennor
DiedPendour Cove, Cornwall
Venerated inCornwall
Major shrineSt Senara's Church

Saint Senara is a legendary Cornish saint with links to the village of Zennor on the north coast of Cornwall , UK. The Church of Saint Senara, Zennor is dedicated to her; the village, nearby headland Zennor Head, and the neolithic tomb Zennor Quoit received her name indirectly.

Historical records[edit]

According to scholar Nicholas Orme, a Saint Sinar of Zennor was first recorded in 1170 as a male saint ("Sanctus Sinar"), but from 1235 onwards as a female one ("Sancta Sinara"). Orme states that unless she can be identified with Azenor, the mother of Saint Budoc in Breton legends, nothing else is recorded about her. He also points out the similarity to Saint Senan, commemorated at nearby Sennen.[1]


Senara was reputedly a Breton princess of Brest originally named Asenora,[2] a woman described as having a "rather dubious reputation" before her conversion.[unreliable source?][3] She was married to a Breton king who wrongly accused her of adultery and threw her into the sea in a barrel while pregnant.[4] She was visited by an angel, whilst floating in the sea off the westernmost end of Cornwall, and gave birth to a son in the waves, who later became Saint Budoc or an Irish bishop. She was washed up on the Cornish coast, and some believe she founded Zennor and gave her name to the eponymous village (and subsequently Zennor Head, Zennor Quoit and Porthzennor Cove), before continuing to Ireland.[5][6]

Due to the striking similarity, the legend's origins possibly lie in Greek mythology and the story of Danaë who was also cast to sea with her son Perseus in a wooden box.[4]


The "mermaid chair" in Zennor church

Senara was highly venerated by local fishermen and is said to represent the dual nature of Christ (human and divine).[7] Medieval folk regarded her as a symbol of lust and a warning against the sins of the flesh due to her story of purported adultery and subsequent conversion. She gives her name to St Senara's Church in Zennor and it contains the Mermaid Chair, an ancient chair with carvings of fish on the seat and a pew end with a depiction of the mermaid admiring herself in a mirror, which is believed to be at least 600 years old.[7][8][9] A statue of St Senara lies in an enclosed garden next to the church.

Modern adaptations[edit]

Senara is the subject of a book and linked to the Mermaid of Zennor by Sue Monk Kidd, The Mermaid Chair,[10] which was adapted into a movie in 2006.[11]


  1. ^ Orme, Nicholas (1992). Nicholas Roscarrock's Lives of the Saints: Cornwall and Devon. New Series. 35. Devon and Cornwall Record Society. p. 173. ISBN 0-901853-35-6. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ Bede, Eccl. Hist. Book 3, chapter 23.
  3. ^ "The Mermaid Chair". Archived from the original on 10 October 2010. Retrieved 13 April 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ a b Monaghan, Patricia (2004). The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. New York: Infobase Publishing. p. 26. ISBN 0-8160-4524-0.
  5. ^ Wills, Dixe (25 July 2006). Z to Z of Great Britain. Icon Books. ISBN 978-1-84046-754-3. Retrieved 13 April 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ "About Parish". Zennor Parish Council. Archived from the original on 22 April 2009. Retrieved 13 April 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ a b "St Senara's Church, Zennor, Cornwall". Haunted Britain. Retrieved 13 April 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ Ancient Worlds Celtia, Saint Senara, retrieved 13/04/2012
  9. ^ Viccars, Sue (22 June 2010). Frommer's Cornwall Day By Day. John Wiley & Sons. p. 134. ISBN 978-0-470-72100-1. Retrieved 13 April 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  10. ^ Kidd, Sue Monk (3 February 2011). The Mermaid Chair. Headline. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-7553-8518-8. Retrieved 13 April 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ The Mermaid Chair at IMDb