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The Italian Chapel

This was what first drew me to the possibility of Orkney as the third week of our stay in Scotland - and was the very first stop we made as we drove off the ferry from the mainland.

I was facinated by the story of how an Italian Catholic chapel came to be built, and then preserved in a country that is so overwhelmingly Protestant.


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During World War II, 1,200 Italian prisoners were housed in POW camps on the Orkney Islands. Brought there to serve as a labor crew, they built the Churchill Barriers. The Churchill Barriers were a series of causeways that blocked off the eastern approaches to Scapa Flow where the British Fleet often lay at anchor.

Thousands of miles from their homes and from their faith. Their longing for a place to worship went unanswered until September of 1943. That is when the camp commandant arranged for padre Gioachino Giacobazzi of the Order of Little Brothers to come to the camp as the new spiritual leader for the prisoners.

The commandant provided two Nissen huts, placed end to end and Padre Giacobazzi discovered within the ranks of the POWs, a talented artist named Domenico Chiocchetti.

Drawing upon the civilian occupations and talents of his fellow prisoners, Mr. Chiocchetti designed and directed the transformation of those two Nissen huts into this little chapel.
The materials they used were whatever they could get their hands on - mostly concrete and paint.

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And almost 70 years later, a devoted group of local volunteers maintain the chapel. Here's a picture I took of the plaque that tells the story.

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Comments (4)

Barb Cabot:

What a touching story and what a lovely church.

Very cool! I wonder how many people attend this church weekly today.

Deborah Responds: It isn't an active parish. It's more of a memorial and tourist attraction. There is a group of volunteers who show people around and collect donations to maintain the premises.

What a beautiful church! I love the art inside.

For such a small church it's beautiful! And it looks like it's sitting out in the middle of nowhere.

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