In 1942, during World War II, 550 Italian prisoners of war who had been captured in North Africa were brought to Orkney, Scotland and housed in Camp 60 on the previously uninhabited island of Lamb Holm while they constructed the Churchill Barriers east of Scapa Flow. The Churchill Barriers were 4 causeways built to block access to Scapa Flow where the British naval fleet was based.
In 1943 it was agreed that a place of worship was needed for the Italian prisoners and the chapel was constructed using only limited materials available to the prisoners. Two Nissen huts were joined end-to-end and the corrugated interior then covered with plasterboard and the altar and altar rails were made from leftover concrete from the work on the barriers.
Most of the interior decoration was done by Domenico Chiocchetti, a prisoner from Moena. The prisoners created a facade out of concrete to conceal the shape of the hut and to make the building look like a church. The light holders were made out of corned beef tins and the baptismal font was made from the inside of a car exhaust covered in a layer of concrete.
When the prisoners were released shortly before the end of the war Chiocchetti remained on the island to finish the newly consecrated chapel.
The Italian Chapel is in the Roman Catholic Parish of Our Lady & St Joseph in Orkney, part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Aberdeen. Mass is held in the chapel on the first Sunday of the summer months (April–September).
The beautiful roof and walls look tiled but are in actual fact hand painted to make it look like real tilework.
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