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Tuesday, 9 June 2015

The Italian Chapel - in Orkney.....

Another place I love taking my visitors to is the Italian Chapel.  The chapel was created in World War II by Italian Prisoners of War (POWs) who were brought to work on the Churchill Barriers having been captured in North Africa.  They must have thought Orkney a cold, damp place compared with their own homeland in Italy . They were taken to the camp on Lamb Holm near where the barriers were to be constructed as a sea defense against further submarine attack, after the sinking of the "Royal Oak".

The POWs wanted a place to worship, so with the permission of the Camp Commander they set about creating a chapel. They bolted two Nissan huts together and then with scrap and cement created this beautiful treasure.  One of the POWs was an artist, Domenico Chiocchetti.  When the prisoners left the island in 1944 Chiocchetti remained to finish work on the font.  He later, returned to Orkney after the war, along with his family and after his death the links have remained.

Not very clear I know, but these are pictures of the men who built the chapel.

And here is the magnificent interior..... Remember the metalwork for this screen is all from *scrap*!

 With such beautiful detail

And these lights were made out of "bully-beef" tins apparently. I love the stars...

The altar painting was based on a picture of the Madonna and Child that Chiocchetti had been carrying in his wallet during the war.

And paintings of the saints adorn the side walls....

And the "stations of the cross" along each wall.  Sadly some of these were stolen last year, but have now been replaced. Folk in Orkney were shocked to hear of the theft as the chapel is left unlocked and unattended and there have been no problems ever before.  Folk in Orkney can usually leave doors open in the country etc.... but life changes everywhere I suppose.

And the brickwork - it's painted!  All the "brickwork", the walls, the ceiling....all of it....

As you can see in the first of the three pictures, there is water damage on the ceiling.  It's a constant battle to keep the chapel in good repair.

During our visit an Italian conservation artist, Antonella Papa, was repairing some of the water damage (remember they are nissan huts!). She kindly consented to having her photo taken...

She was just finishing off as she was leaving Orkney the next day.

If you look back to the photo at the top of this post you can see the facade neatly hides the nissan huts behind.  All the facade is made out of cement, and the head of Christ is in clay, weathered now after so many years.

The chapel still has some religious services, and also concerts so it is kept in use. But mostly now it's visitors who come through the door to marvel at the artistry and dedication of its creators.

Outside the chapel, in what was once the square of the camp is a statue of St George and the Dragon, made in cement on a wire frame.  It is said to symbolise the triumph of defeat and loneliness of the prisoners during their time in captivity.

And in the distance (click on the picture to hopefully see better!) is one of the Churchill Barriers, stretching across the entrance to Scapa Flow.


  1. This is one of the stops we made in the Orkneys, too. The chapel is fabulous. Good to see it again, if only in your pictures.

  2. Thank you for this. The dedication speaks for itself and I hope the preservation will continue for many years. Vera - UK

  3. This is an amazing story and beautiful chapel. I am stunned by the POWs' creativity, and faithfulness in creating this beauty. The iron work is so intricate. Thank you for sharing this story.

  4. Such beauty, an amazing creation from a Nissan hut.

  5. I remember perfectly the place , nice chapel and history! :)

  6. I am astonished at what can be created by creative and driven souls. Such beauty, such talent. It is most beautiful.

  7. So interesting, and as always, such beautiful photos!

  8. I love this place - we've been twice now and still marvel at the intricacy, you really have to actually stop and remind yourself that what you are seeing on the walls is flat, painted on, NOT the stonework it looks to be!

  9. Thank you so much for writing about this beautiful place - and the photos are excellent. It's amazing how such a creation was made from a couple of Nissan huts and scrap materials; such craftsmanship and artistry. Surely that artist is on a par with many of the famous ones; I wonder if he ever sold any of his work?

  10. Such a hidden treasure, that I would have not know about until your post!

  11. Oh what a fascinating history lesson. Your visitors are lucky to have you as a guide. BTW I love the weather forecast "Widget" ... chilly there today eh ?