Thursday, 13 August 2015

The Italian Church Orkney

I had not planned a second post today but this morning we visited the Italian Church on Lamb Holm and I felt so moved by what I saw that I wanted to share its story.

It is a tiny Orkney church with a poignant history. It was begun in 1943 to serve the population of Italian prisoners of war who were stationed at Camp 60 on the island.


After their capture in North Africa, the prisoners were brought there to construct barriers (Churchill's barriers) across the channels between the small southern islands of Orkney to prevent access to Scapa Flow. It was strenuous work and they were far from home. The chapel provided much needed solace.

It was built from two Nissen huts, placed end to end, bleak and stark without the extraordinary
paintings inside and the ornate facade at the entrance. This was planned and executed by the prisoners under the guidance of Domenico Chiocchetti, an Italian painter. He and the other prisoners painted the interior to resemble carved stonework and tiles.


He painted a Madonna and Child behind the altar replicating a painting by Nicolo Barabino, a copy of which he had carried with him from Italy.


Most touching of all for us was the dedication of the chapel to the Queen of Peace, all the more so because of the many Italian visitors who were visiting the site at the same time as us. The little chapel is now carefully preserved and is the focus for connections between Chiocchetti's home village of Moena and Orkney. Children from local schools and musical groups make regular exchange visits. A lasting friendship has been forged from the hardship of war.

6 comments:

  1. I read the extraordinary story of the building of the chapel in Philip Paris's book: Orkney's Italian Chapel: The true story of an icon. I am so pleased that it still exists, is maintained, and has fostered even more friendships.

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    1. I remember you saying in a previous reply that you'd read the book and you were in my thoughts as I wrote the post. The chapel is beautifully maintained and clearly is the focus for many links between Orkney and Italy. A lovely result from so much misery.

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  2. Yes, I can certainly see why you would want to share this story. It is very beautiful. How fortunate you are to have been there, and how lovely that, thanks to your travels and sharing, I now know about it too!!!

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    1. Ah the pleasures of the Internet.

      This has been a great trip. We leave tomorrow and will make our way slowly South. I know there will be more posts resulting once I've had time to think about what I've seen.

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  3. What an interesting bit of history !! Thank you so much for sharing it ! Isn't it wonderful that there is still a connection between the Orkney's and Italy ;)

    Funny ... I have been documenting my own Orkney connection today ... back to 1670 !

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    1. What an extraordinary coincidence! That is some link back through history. Have you visited? I can heartily recommend.

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