Place to Visit
The Italian Chapel consists of two Nissen huts transformed into a beautiful chapel by Domenico Chiocchetti and his colleagues, prisoners of war captured in North Africa and transported to the Island of Lambholm in Orkney.
In October 1939 a German submarine under the command of Gunther Prien entered Scapa Flow and sank the British battleship ‘Royal Oak’ with the loss of 834 lives. Winston Churchill, at that time First Sea Lord, visited Orkney and the decision was taken to construct barriers to close off four of the entrances to Scapa Flow to make the base for the home fleet more secure.
A shortage of manpower to construct the barriers coincided with the capture of thousands of Italian soldiers fighting in North Africa so a decision was taken to transport 550 men to Camp 60 on Lambholm and a similar number to Camp 34 on Burray.
Following a request from the camp priest, Fr Giacobazzi, it was agreed that two Nissen huts would be joined together to provide a chapel. Among the Italians in Camp 60 was an artist, Domenico Chiocchetti, and he was given the task of transforming the two Nissen huts into a chapel. He was assisted by other tradesmen – in particular Giuseppe Palumbi a blacksmith, and Domenico Buttapasta a cement worker.
Domenico Chiocchetti carried in this pocket a small prayer card given to him by his mother before he left his home in Italy and it was the image on that card of the Madonna and Child by Nicolo Barabino that Chiocchetti based his painting above the alter in the Chapel. Initially when he was commissioned to paint above the alter by the Camp Commandant, Major Buckland, he realised that the prisoner was a very talented artist and he was allowed to continue painting to make the building more attractive.
Now, 70 years after the completion of the Chapel, it is one of Orkney’s major tourist attractions with over 100,000 visitors every year.
There is a strong friendship link with the town of Moena in Italy (the home of the artist) and Orkney and members of the family visit Orkney from time to time and a daughter, Letizia, is an Honorary President of the Preservation Committee.
Antonella Papa, a restoration artist from Rome, who had previously done work in the Sistine Chapel spent the month of April working in the Chapel refreshing areas of Chiocchetti’s painting which has transformed the faded paint work and has left the Chapel looking fresh and beautiful again.
In August 2014 three of the Station of the Cross were stolen. Replacement plaques were carved in Moena are in place in the Chapel but this has resulted in the installation of CCTV cameras which, it is hoped, will deter any further damage to the Chapel.
The Preservation Committee do hope visitors will enjoy their time in the Chapel. A small booklet is available in English, Italian and German which, for a donation of £1.00 tells the story in words and pictures and gives a full explanation of the Chapel and its construction.
Admission is £3.00 per person, with free entry to those 12 and under.