The Orkney News is running a series of articles on Orkney’s World War II sites and wartime experiences.
The Italian Chapel on Orkney’s Lamb Holm is the remaining one of two chapels built during World War II in Orkney by Italian Prisoners’ of War. It is a physical example of the creativity, ingenuity and skill of people thrown together in times of conflict and transported to a place far from their homelands.
At the time of its construction Lamb Holm was an island. The Churchill Barriers which now connect up the islands from Mainland to South Ronaldsay had not yet been built. For those of you reading this that do not know Orkney the only thing predictable about our weather are the strong winds that whistle across the landscape. It is a far cry from the Italian shores and even more so from North Africa where the prisoners were captured.
In 1942 the Italian prisoners arrived at Camp 60 on the tiny island of Lamb Holm and were soon engaged in the construction of the defensive structure of the Churchill Barriers. Those who objected and went on strike seeing it as against the Geneva Convention were soon transported to other camps in the UK. For those who remained, life must have been hard. By 1943 it was agreed that a place of worship was required and 2 Nissan huts welded together formed the main frame of the Chapel.
Inside visitors today gasp in awe at what was constructed out of whatever could be utilised. The interior design is mainly the work of Domenico Chiocchetti and his family still have strong ties with Orkney today. Many prisoners contributed their time and skills to what can be seen inside. Even after Italy was no longer in the war and prisoners were repatriated Domenico was given permission to stay on and finish his work in the chapel.
It was once the case that in Orkney visitors could just turn up and enter the chapel freely but increasing numbers and the theft of three unique wooden religious plaques inside have put paid to that. But don’t let that deter you. For people who are visiting Orkney or for those of us who live here it is a wonderful place to visit.
Italian Chapels built during World War II are not unique to Orkney and some still remain in places where men found themselves incarcerated: including Camp Atterbury, Indiana, US, Hereford, Texas US, and even near Nairobi Kenya.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame
The Italian Chapel Orkney Admission: £3.00 free entry to those 12 and under £10 season (1year) available Contact: 01856 781580
- April and October 10-4pm and Sunday 10-3pm.
- June, July, August 9-6.30pm, 7 days a week.
- May, September 9-5pm, 7 days a week.
- November, December, January, February and March 10-1pm, 7 days a week.