The Italian Chapel is a highly ornate Catholic chapel on Lamb Holm. It was built during World War II by Italian prisoners of war, who were housed on the previously uninhabited island while they constructed the Churchill Barriers to the east of Scapa Flow. Only the concrete foundations of the other buildings of the prisoner-of-war camp survive. It was not completed until after the end of the war, and was restored in the 1960s and again in the 1990s. It is now a popular tourist attraction, and a category A listed building.

550 Italian prisoners of war, captured in North Africa during World War II, were brought to Orkney in 1942. They worked on the construction of the Churchill Barriers, four causeways created to block access to Scapa Flow. 200 were based at Camp 60 on Lamb Holm. In 1943, Major Thomas Pyres Buckland, Camp 60's new commandant, and Father Gioacchino Giacobazzi, the Camp's priest, agreed that a place of worship was required.

The chapel was constructed from limited materials by the prisoners. Two Nissen huts were joined end-to-end. The corrugated interior was then covered with plasterboard and the altar and altar rail were constructed from concrete left over from work on the barriers. Most of the interior decoration was done by Domenico Chiocchetti, a prisoner from Moena. He painted the sanctuary end of the chapel and fellow-prisoners decorated the entire interior. They created a facade out of concrete, concealing the shape of the hut and making the building look like a church. The light holders were made out of corned beef tins. The baptismal font was made from the inside of a car exhaust covered in a layer of concrete.

Chiocchetti remained on the island to finish the chapel, even when his fellow prisoners were released shortly before the end of the war.

In 1958, the Chapel Preservation Committee was set up by a group of Orcadians. In 1960, Chiocchetti returned to assist in the restoration. He returned again in 1964, but was too ill to travel when some of the other prisoners returned in 1992 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of their arrival on the island. He died in 1999. In 1996 a declaration was jointly signed by officials in Orkney and Chiocchetti's hometown of Moena, reinforcing the ties between the two places.

Today the tin tabernacle is still used as a chapel and remains a popular tourist attraction, receiving over 100,000 visitors every year. It has become one of the best-known and moving symbols of reconciliation in the British Isles.

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Orkney, United Kingdom
See all sites in Orkney

Details

Founded: 1943
Category: Religious sites in United Kingdom

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4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Helen Blackburn (11 months ago)
What a remarkable place. So peaceful and spiritually uplifting. I cannot recommend this place highly enough. The workmanship that has gone into this building is mindblowing.
Alan Scott (11 months ago)
Very impressive painting. The 3D effect of the painting is very effective. The story of painters returning to renovate the building and the memorial services after their passing is moving.
Richard Bradley (12 months ago)
I was pleasantly surprised by this building. Fashioned in the war by Italian prisoners from a Nissin hut, the skill they used in creating the apparent depth and texture to the plain walls is very much worthy of the praise it gets in all the guide books. It's not a big building so the limits on numbers under Covid friendly operation is actually helpful. Even if all you do is add an hour's time to your travel towards the ferry at St Margarets then you won't regret it. That said, allow another to walk around that town when you get there too - it's quite pretty and something you just drive through in a hurry to find your hotel or b&b and that's a shame.
Tom Buckley (12 months ago)
Must see
Melanie Moss (12 months ago)
The £3 entry fee is well worth it to help keep this amazing chapel in good condition for future generations to visit. Information boards tell the story of the Italian POWs building the Chapel and how it was handed over to the people of Orkney to look after. A real labour of love in dark times, which is now very evocative and heart warming.
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