The Triumph of the Human Spirit: The Italian Chapel, Orkney

“The chapel is yours to love and preserve” – Signor Chiocchetti
(Artist and Italian Prisoner of War, Orkney)

Remember Me Researcher, Dr Louis Bailey reports on a unique legacy of World War Two in Orkney.

Orkney Chapel
The Italian Chapel on Lambholm, Orkney. Photograph copyright Louis Bailey.

A cold, windswept November morning in 2016 finds me driving over Scapa Flow in Orkney to the site of the Italian Chapel.

The church was built by the Italian prisoners who were brought here during the Second World War to work on the island’s sea defences.  One of the prisoners, Domenico Chiocchetti, set to work on building the chapel in 1943 with the permission of the camp’s new commandant, Major T.P. Buckland, and the help of a handful of fellow prisoners.  With nothing to hand but scrap materials – barbed wire, concrete and corrugated iron – the men transformed two Nissen huts into the spectacular display that we see today – Orkney’s answer to the Sistine Chapel.

Orkney Chapel-Interior.png
Inside the chapel. Photography copyright Louis Bailey.
Orkney Chapel - Altar
At the altar. Photograph copyright Louis Bailey.

When the prisoners left the island in September 1994, Chiocchetti stayed behind in order to finish his labour of love.  It was his gift to the people of Orkney – a beautiful gesture of hope and reconciliation.

Orkney Chapel - Fresco
Trompe-l’oeil ceiling fresco revealing the dove of hope. Photograph copyright Louis Bailey.

Seventy years later, it still serves as an important reminder to the people visiting Orkney, serving as a permanent symbol of resilience in the aftermath of adversity.

Dr Louis Bailey is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the Remember Me project, leading the Case Study ‘Who Were They? Trans Identities and Memorialisation’ Louis has a special interest in issues around gender identity and variance and has worked with and for the trans community for a number of years.

For more information about the Italian Chapel, please visit:
https://www.visitorkney.com/listings/history/the-italian-chapel

http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/eastmainland/italianchapel/

https://www.visitscotland.com/info/see-do/the-italian-chapel-p253741

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