Jump to content

Italian Chapel

Coordinates: 58°53′23″N 2°53′24″W / 58.8897°N 2.8901°W / 58.8897; -2.8901
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Italian Chapel, interior
Exterior of the chapel
Font of the Italian Chapel

The Italian Chapel is a highly ornate Catholic chapel on Lamb Holm in the Orkney Islands, Scotland. It was built during World War II by Italian prisoners of war, who were housed on the previously uninhabited island while they constructed the Churchill Barriers to the east of Scapa Flow. Only the concrete foundations of the other buildings of the prisoner-of-war camp survive. The chapel was not completed until after the end of the war, and was restored in the 1960s and again in the 1990s. It is a popular tourist attraction, and a category A listed building.[1][2]

It 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).[3]


550 Italian prisoners of war, captured in North Africa during World War II, were brought to Orkney in 1942. They worked on the construction of the Churchill Barriers, four causeways created to block access to Scapa Flow.[4] 200 were based at Camp 60 on Lamb Holm.[5] In 1943, Major Thomas Pyres Buckland, Camp 60's new commandant, and Father Gioacchino Giacobazzi, the camp's Catholic priest, agreed that a place of worship was required.

The chapel was constructed from limited materials by the prisoners in the form of a tin tabernacle, and comprises two Nissen huts joined end-to-end. The corrugated interior was then covered with plasterboard and the altar and altar rail were constructed from concrete left over from work on the barriers. Most of the interior decoration was done by Domenico Chiocchetti, a prisoner from Moena.[6] He painted the sanctuary end of the chapel and fellow-prisoners decorated the entire interior. They created a facade out of concrete, concealing the shape of the hut and making the building look like a church. The light holders were made out of corned beef tins. The baptismal font was made from the inside of a car exhaust covered in a layer of concrete.

When his fellow prisoners were released shortly before the end of the war, Chiocchetti remained on the island to finish decorating the newly consecrated chapel.[5][7]


In 1958, the Chapel Preservation Committee was set up by a group of Orcadians. In 1960, Chiocchetti returned to assist in the restoration. He returned again in 1964, with Mrs Maria Chiocchetti, but he was too ill to travel when some of the other prisoners returned in 1992 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of their arrival on the island. He died in 1999. In 1996, a declaration was jointly signed by officials in Orkney and Chiocchetti's hometown of Moena, reinforcing the ties between the two places.

The chapel is still used for worship and remains a popular tourist attraction, receiving over 100,000 visitors every year. It has become one of the best-known symbols of reconciliation in the British Isles.[8]

Painted stonework effect
Painted stonework effect

Philip Paris wrote two books, one fiction and one non-fiction, about the building of the chapel.[9] The novel The Chapel at the Edge of the World by Kirsten Mckenzie covers the chapel's building.[10]

In 2014, a special Mass was held at the chapel to mark its 70th anniversary.[11] During the Mass, Angela Chiocchetti, the daughter of Domenico Chiocchetti, sang Panis angelicus.

In 2015, professional art restorer Antonella Papa offered and had her services accepted to restore the chapel's frescoes, spending a month on the work.[12] She continued this work with the help of local volunteers at the end of October 2017.[13]

Architectural details[edit]

Chapel interior
Chapel interior

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lamb Holm the Italian Chapel, Listed Buildings Online, retrieved 12 June 2011
  2. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Lamb Holm, The Italian Chapel, (Roman Catholic), including Statue (LB12728)". Retrieved 7 June 2020.
  3. ^ "Catholic Orkney". The Roman Catholic Parish of Our Lady & St. Joseph in Orkney. Retrieved 28 October 2017.
  4. ^ Colpi, Terri (1991). Italians Forward: a Visual History of the Italian Community in Great Britain. Mainstream. ISBN 1-85158-349-1.
  5. ^ a b Crowther, Stewart. "The Miracle of Lambholm". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  6. ^ "Italian Chapel". Gazetteer for Scotland. Retrieved 30 August 2009.
  7. ^ Orkney's Italian Chapel. P.O.W. Chapel Preservation Committee, Stromness undated, p.5
  8. ^ "The history of the Italian Chapel". The Orcadian. March 2002. Archived from the original on 23 March 2009. Retrieved 30 August 2009.
  9. ^ "Philip Paris, Author: The Italian Chapel".
  10. ^ House, Christian (8 August 2009). "The Chapel at the Edge of the World, By Kirsten McKenzie". The Independent. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
  11. ^ "The Orkney Schola: Angela Chiochetti sings "Panis Angelicus" in the Chapel her father decorated". 19 May 2014. Archived from the original on 27 September 2016. Retrieved 25 September 2016.
  12. ^ "Italian artist to restore Orkney Italian Chapel frescos". BBC. 7 April 2015. Retrieved 28 October 2017.
  13. ^ "Art expert resumes Italian Chapel restoration work". BBC. 28 October 2017. Retrieved 28 October 2017.

External links[edit]

58°53′23″N 2°53′24″W / 58.8897°N 2.8901°W / 58.8897; -2.8901