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An Italian Chapel On Orkney


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#1 Dirigoboy

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Posted 08 May 2007 - 08:31 PM

Orkney is one of those wild windswept places that calls to me. I've never been there, but someday I want to visit the stone Bothy cottage at Kirkwall.
One other place that I would like to see is this chapel, built by Italian POW's. Let the story be told....I think it qualifies as a museum of sorts.
Lastly, visit the website at the bottom of the page. It contains absolutley stunning photography of this small chapel.

In early 1942 some 550 Italian prisoners of war, captured in North Africa, were brought to Orkney. They were needed to overcome the shortage of labour working on the continuing construction of the Churchill Barriers. These were the four causeways designed to block eastern access to Scapa Flow following the sinking of HMS Royal Oak by a German U-Boat in 1939.

Prisoners of war were prevented by treaty from working on military projects, so the barriers became causeways linking the southern islands of Orkney together, which is what they remain today.

The causeways are not all that remains to remind us of this period. On a bare hillside on the north side of the little island of Lamb Holm, overlooking the most northerly of the Churchill Barriers, is what has become known as the Italian Chapel. The Chapel, together with a nearby concrete statue of St George killing the dragon and an Italian flag fluttering atop a pole are all that remain of Camp 60.

Camp 60 was home to the Italian prisoners from 1942 until early 1945. The camp comprised 13 huts, which the Italians improved with concrete paths (concrete was never in short supply during the construction of the Churchill Barriers) and gardens, complete with flower beds and vegetable plots.

In the centre of the camp, one of the prisoners, Domenico Chiocchetti, produced the statue of St George you can still see today, fashioned from barbed wire covered with concrete. The prisoners also worked to produce a theatre and a recreation hut, complete with a billiard table made, perhaps inevitably, from concrete.

One thing Camp 60 did lack was a chapel. In 1943 the camp acquired a new commandant, Major T.P. Buckland. He favoured the idea, as did Father Giacombazzi the Camp Padre. Late in 1943 two Nissen huts were provided. They were joined together end to end, with the intention of providing a chapel in one end and a school in the other.

The work of turning the Nissen huts into a chapel fell to the prisoners themselves, led once more by Domenico Chiocchetti. The interior of the east end was lined with plasterboard and Chiocchetti started work on what is now the sanctuary. The altar and its fittings were made from concrete and were flanked by two windows made from painted glass. The gold curtains either side of the altar were purchased from a company in Exeter using the prisoners' own funds.

Chioccetti then set to work on the painting of the interior of the sanctuary. The end result is a work of art that is magnificent even to jaded 21st Century eyes, and must have been utterly stunning to those imprisoned here in 1943. Another prisoner, Palumbo, who had been an iron worker in the USA before the war, spent four months constructing the wrought iron rood screen, which still complements the rest of the interior today.

The contrast between the east end of the double hut and the remainder was by now so stark that the decision was taken to improve whole interior of the structure. This in turn was lined with plasterboard, before being painted by Chiocchetti and others to resemble brickwork.

This showed up the plainness of the exterior of the chapel, so a number of the prisoners built the facade you can see today, again largely from concrete. The new facade had the effect of concealing the shape of the Nissen huts behind it, and came complete with a belfry, decorated windows, and a moulded head of Christ above the door. At the same time the metal exterior of the huts was thickly coated in concrete.

The end of the war meant that the chapel was only in use by the prisoners for a short period of time. It was still not fully finished when most of the Italians left the island early in 1945, and Chiocchetti stayed behind to complete the font. Before the Italians departed the Lord Lieutenant of Orkney, who also owned Lamb Holm, promised that the Orcadians would look after the chapel they had created.

During the years after the war the chapel increasingly became a visitor attraction, and in 1958 a preservation committee was set up. In 1960, the BBC funded a return visit to Orkney by Domenico Chiocchetti. His restoration of the paintwork was followed by a service of rededication attended by 200 Orcadians, and broadcast on Italian radio.

Domenico Chiocchetti returned to Orkney again in 1964 with his wife, and gifted to the chapel the 14 wooden stations of the cross on view today. In 1992, 50 years after the Italians were originally brought to Orkney, 8 of the former prisoners returned, though Chiocchetti was too ill to be with them.

Domenico Chiocchetti died on 7 May 1999 in his home village of Moena, aged 89. He did so in the knowledge that his masterpiece will live on as a tribute to his artistry and to the spirit of all those involved in its construction and preservation.
The Exterior of the Chapel


http://www.undiscove.../italianchapel/

#2 Yellow Rose

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Posted 08 May 2007 - 09:13 PM

Fascinating!

As an American of Italian descent, I have to admit that I am swelling with pride at the beautiful workmanship of the chapel. Silly, I know, but I can't help myself!

Sarah

#3 appell8

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Posted 08 May 2007 - 10:07 PM

Alan, terrific story. And it adds to the history of the ambivalent Italian commitment to the war effort. Captured, e.g., in the movie "Captain Corelli's Mandolin." My respects to the creative impulses of those Italians.

#4 G.MITCHELL

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Posted 09 May 2007 - 03:43 AM

Dirigoboy, another worthy piece of posting from you, as always.
I was born in Glasgow , Scotland and can remember clearly in my early days the rows and rows of Nissen huts along the shoreline of Northern Troon (the famous Open Golf town) where my father told me that Italian POW`S were kept.
The Italians were brought to W.Scotland to work the land for agriculture and help in Farming and cattle and sheep herding. This area around Troon upto Largs / Glasgow is still today famous for many of the Italian businesses that were created after the war when many Italians stayed in Scotland. I have eaten so many Togglioni and Nardini ice creams , been served coffee in so many cafeterias in small villages and towns and bought confectionary from the many small ice cream vans that used to tour the area in the 60`s and 70`s.

These Italian families prospered in W.Scotland and gave the local population some wonderful products and services, not to mention a healthy mixing of genetic material.

#5 ianhay_7

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Posted 10 May 2007 - 05:47 PM

Been there, seen it, done it and wore the t shirt. It's a fantastic monument to the POW's and a truly lovely and in use chapel today. The artwork and materials used is amazing. I last visited the site about 10 years ago (it's a windswept place). I also on occasion fly fish for mackerel off the very Churchill Barriers they helped build.

I have a pamphlet from the Orkney's regarding the Italian Chapel. I will gladly post it on to anyone with an interest. No charge.

Ian

#6 Dirigoboy

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 09:46 AM

I sometimes am pulled to revisit posts I've made over the years. This one, in a wistful moment this morning, takes me back to a pleasant memory. Having discovered this in '07, I have added this spot to my bucket list. Whether I ever am allowed to make my pilgrimmage there is pure conjecture. ;)
The story of the chapel is so very interesting, and now, within the last two year---2009 actually, a book has come out with the story. I just may buy it.
And so, on this wonderfully quiet early Fall morning in Maine, a gentle bump for The Chapel.

The Italian Chapel

Philip Paris

In May 2008, I received an email from a journalist by the name of Philip Paris. He was enquiring about Father Joseph Ryland Whitaker SJ, who was based in Lerwick and Stornoway in the 1950s and ‘60s, and Father Herbert Bamber SJ, who was at Kirkwall, Orkney, between 1964 and 1983.

Philip was carrying out research for a book he was writing about the building of a spectacular chapel on the Orkney island of Lamb Holm by Italian prisoners of war during the Second World War. Both priests were involved in the chapel after the war. Philip first encountered and became captivated by the Italian Chapel when he and his wife went to Orkney for their honeymoon in 2005.

Finding the information that Philip was looking for was easy (the Jesuits are very good at keeping records). But his request did whet my appetite to find out more about the Italian Chapel. An Internet search yielded some results: glorious photos of both the interior and the exterior, in sunny times and with snow upon the ground. Its history, too, is covered in some depth on several web sites. It was indeed a beautiful construction, but my own research failed to get beneath the surface, to tell me anything about the men who built it or what happened to them – and to the chapel itself – after the war. When I opened The Italian Chapel and started reading, I was transported into a world of pain and beauty, hope and despair, art and war, human resourcefulness and spiritual heights. The chapel itself is the central character of this historical novel and in many ways the amazing painting of the Madonna and Child behind the altar dominates it. But what a strong and glorious supporting cast Philip Paris has assembled, or rather, had assembled for him from Italian vineyards and military establishments, from Orkney farms and North African battlefields, and from blacksmiths’ forges and hospital emergency departments.

The Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm is world famous. Around 90,000 people visit it every year to see the fruits of the labours of the Italian prisoners of war of Camp 60. Their primary enforced task between May 1940 and September 1944 was to build the Churchill Barriers. Following the sinking of HMS Royal Oak in Scapa Flow the previous October by a German U-Boat, Churchill had ordered the construction of protective barriers between islands. Thecontract was given to Balfour Beatty, but the labour was provided by over 1,300 Italian prisoners of war who had been captured in North Africa, including 550 from Camp 60.

Philip Paris actually begins the journey at the end of the war, when bulldozers arrive at the camp to demolish it. Nothing was to remain. The demolition crew’s assault was brutal, but they were forced into a situation that made them question their instructions, when they arrived at two unusual Nissen huts joined together. Cement and plaster, wrought iron and tiles, barbed wire and paint had been painstakingly, artistically and lovingly used in constructing a chapel for the men. The crew refused to complete their destructive task and the Italian Chapel was left undisturbed.

Paris presents masterfully the triangular nature of the relationships between the characters: the prisoners, their camp supervisors and the locals. But after a while, they start to merge, as hostility, suspicion and animosity melt into mutual respect, then friendship and even love. The pictures the author paints in his writing – the characters, their emotions, aspirations and endeavours, and the landscapes (including the inhospitable weather) – are more than just the product of a creative and active imagination: these are real people, ordinary people doing extraordinary things in exceptional circumstances. Paris did three years of research and tracked down ex-prisoners of war from the camps on Orkney, as well as the descendents of the artists and those involved in running Camp 60. He uncovered true stories hitherto unknown, including that of a secret love affair between one of the prisoners of war and a local woman.

The prisoners of war have their work and their recreational activities. They have their friends, with some friendships developing into love, albeit with limited opportunities for it to blossom. But as the months and years of captivity start to build up, and the levels of despondency and short-temperedness increase, one of the prisoners, Domenico Chiocchetti, realises that the men lack one major thing: refreshment for their spirits. He hits upon the idea to build a chapel. On the one hand, it would keep them occupied, give them the chance to concentrate on something positive and to use their skills and talents. But in the longer term, it would also be a place where they could find spiritual comfort and strength as they face the enemies of loneliness and separation from their loved ones.

The idea wins the support of the camp commander and month after month of industry follow. But this is not just two Nissen huts with a table as an altar, around which Sunday Mass could be celebrated. This is an exhibition of pure craftsmanship: from the relief of Christ’s head crowned with thorns to the massive mural (Regina Pacis, ora pro nobis), and from the candlesticks to the chapel bell retrieved from a scuppered ship.

The Italian Chapel is described as a historical novel, but it is easy to imagine it as a film script or a television drama. Each chapter feels like a scene and, were I a movie producer looking for an idea based on a breathtakingly beautiful wind- and rain-swept location and which explored some of the deepest emotions and richest achievements of human beings, I would have found it in The Italian Chapel. The novelis far more than just a historical account of the construction of a place of worship and solace in a prisoner of war camp in World War II: this is a 272-page memorial to goodness and greatness. It is a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, of its ability to overcome the harshest of circumstances and to create a thing of beauty and splendour from the crudest and most unlikely of materials. The prisoners of war of Camp 60 – inspired by people like Domenico Chiocchetti and supported by the staff of the camp – rise from despair to glory.

In the First World War, the story that captured the imagination of people of goodwill was that of enemy soldiers in the trenches uniting in the singing of Stille Nacht (‘Silent Night’). The story of the Italian Chapel is similar but, told in this new and moving way by Philip Paris, I think it is even more inspirational.

If ever you plan a holiday to the Orkneys, be sure to visit the Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm. If you don’t get there in person, do check it out on the Internet; it really is beautiful. And if this Christmas you want to give someone a book that is well written, deeply spiritual and incredibly uplifting, I strongly recommend The Italian Chapel.

http://www.thinkingf..._20091030_1.htm

#7 FJBoccia

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Posted 18 September 2011 - 05:58 PM

[quote name='Dirigoboy' timestamp='1316357176' post='223210']
I sometimes am pulled to revisit posts I've made over the years. This one, in a wistful moment this morning, takes me back to a pleasant memory. Having discovered this in '07, I have added this spot to my bucket list. Whether I ever am allowed to make my pilgrimmage there is pure conjecture. ;)
The story of the chapel is so very interesting, and now, within the last two year---2009 actually, a book has come out with the story. I just may buy it.
And so, on this wonderfully quiet early Fall morning in Maine, a gentle bump for The Chapel.

[font="Book Antiqua"]The Italian Chapel

Philip Paris
[quote]

I think I'd like to read this book. Sounds interesting.

FJB

#8 Dirigoboy

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 04:46 AM

You're reading my mind as well Frank. There's a lot of interesting things happening in this story. I think it's going on my reading list. I hope to be going for a little reconnoitre of this place one day. I like the idea of wild and windswept and the Orkney's offer that it spades, PLUS you have the museum at Scappa Flow. Ton of history there and not all WWII.
Here's some wonderful additional photos by Doug Houghton. http://www.doughough...dsearch=Orkney Rackwick Bay is stunning.

#9 ianhay_7

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 05:36 AM

Thanks for the picture link, it brings back great memories. I used to holiday there every year for 10 years, I love the place. The tour of the Highland Park distillery is a bit of a blur though! I think I'll pay it a wee visit again soon. I'll look out for that book re the Italian Chapel as well, thanks for the heads up.

Ian

#10 Dirigoboy

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Posted 19 September 2011 - 03:01 PM

Regarding the distillery visit, I'll check international shipping? B) But yeah Ian, I think of the Orkney's not infrequently. I identify with that a bit living in Maine as I do. One day man, one day....

#11 DriveOn

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Posted 20 September 2011 - 07:45 PM

I missed this the first time around. I've been sharing this story with family members and people at work for the last couple of days. It's an amazing story and a lovely chapel. I really hope to be able to see it in person someday.

#12 misako

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Posted 21 September 2011 - 12:38 AM

Alan you dig up such interesting stories!

#13 Dirigoboy

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Posted 21 September 2011 - 03:28 PM

Thanks chaps & chapettes. I found the message of this story to be pretty astounding. There are so many things to point to-----and it's all there on a windswept place on the rugged coast of northern Scotland.
I'm really glad that I bumped it again, and that others have enjoyed it. It's a story to be told.

#14 ianhay_7

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Posted 22 September 2011 - 04:31 AM

In May 2007 I posted that I had a pamphlet on the Italian Chapel, well I can't find it, however Amazon have it as well as the book by Philip Paris and another which I have listed below.

The lost pamphlet.

Orkney's Italian Chapel [Paperback]
(Scotland) Prisoner of War Chapel Preservation Committee (Orkney)

And On This Rock: Italian Chapel
Donald S Murray.

The Italian Chapel [Paperback]
Philip Paris

Edit.

Found another book on the subject, again on Amazon.
The Chapel at the Edge of the World [Paperback]
Kirsten McKenzie

Edited by ianhay_7, 22 September 2011 - 04:38 AM.


#15 Dirigoboy

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Posted 24 September 2011 - 05:23 PM

Sometimes my friend, I think this spot should be a rally spot for WBG huh? What's not to love.




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