In the small Hampshire village of Nately Scures stands St. Swithun’s Church. It is one of England’s smallest churches, measuring little more than 30 feet in length and 15 feet in width, and one of the very few dedicated to St, Swithun, the ninth-century Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Winchester. The church, built in 1175, also has the unusual distinction of only offering a single way in or out: one ornate north door. The archway of this door houses perhaps the most curious feature of this unique church. Those who look to their left as they enter the church will lock eyes with the Mermaid of Nately Scures.
Amongst whirling waves, the mermaid watches all who pass through the church, and, if local legends are to be believed, she serves as a warning to them all. The mermaid’s legend tells that, once upon a time, she and a sailor fell in love out at sea. Their time together was, however, cut short when the sailor returned to land. The lovers parted ways, promising to reunite once he was recalled to sea.
On his return to land, however, the sailor put thoughts of the mermaid aside and instead began courting a local sweetheart. Before long the couple was set to be wed at their local church in Nately Scures. Word of this union crossed the waves, and, as the groom-to-be approached the church on his wedding day, who should he see but the mermaid, blocking the church’s one door. The mermaid threw him onto her back and through streams, rivers, and seas she returned to the deepest ocean with the cheating sailor.
Shocked not only by the appearance of a mermaid but also by the philandering ways of the sailor, the village carved a mermaid into the doorway of the church, as a reminder and warning to any would-be cheats.
The original carved mermaid, weathered by years of watchful warning, can be found within the nave of the church building. A modern copy now takes the place of the original on the doorway but has sadly been defaced, figuratively and literally.