Italian Chapel

Orkney, United Kingdom

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

Rating

4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Chris Denman (8 months ago)
This chapel is definitely better to see in person rather than photos on the net, it is truly remarkable that the chapel is in such a good condition considering it was built during ww2. Take a visit to see it for yourself but with respect to what you are seeing. Parking at the site is not vast but not too small either with easy access to the chapel by all. A small fee is payable for entry.
Sharon (10 months ago)
This is a beautiful little chapel, lovingly built by WW2 prisoners of war. It is an odd combination of feelings, standing in the chapel. There is one of awe at the beauty of the chapel and surrounding area. But also of sadness knowing what led to its creation. Definitely a place to stop for people who are interested in lesser known WW2 stories.
Kate Fraser (2 years ago)
This tiny Chapel made by prisoners of war entirely from material's they had to hand, truly shows the resilience of humans. It is an beautiful and humbling experience that you should definitely embrace
Simon Whitfield (2 years ago)
I love this place. The care the prisoners of war took over it was amazing. A little more expensive than it used to be (and I'm not sure what it really pays for). It used to be donation based, but that was quite a few years ago.
Andrea Susan Campbell (2 years ago)
This is just an amazing place, the story of its building by the Italian POW's and it subsequent survival is great. The second part is the amazing tromp l'oeil painting of the interior. Even after all these years it takes your breath away.
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