The Italian Chapel, Orkney

I came across this on my way to Stromness and came back later when the sun was out. The story goes that during the second world war, there was a large prisoner of war camp on Orkney with many Italians.  Many of the Italians were put to work constructing the Churchill barriers, which were designed to restrict access to the islands.

Father Giacobazzi, the Italian camps priest, had approached the British asking for a place of worship. British Major T P Buckland, the commandant of the POW camp helped them achieve that by making available two Nissen huts.

The Italian Chapel
The Italian Chapel

The Italians joined the two huts together, lined them with plasterboard and constructed a portico around the front entrance using concrete left over from the barriers. It is very much like a church entrance when seen directly from the front.

 

The Italian chapel ceiling
The Italian chapel ceiling

They then painted inside almost after the fashion of the Sistine chapel in Rome. A font was made, and so the story goes, the soldier making it declined to be shipped back to mainland Britain ready for release, as he wanted to finish off the font.

It was not completed until after the end of the war, and was restored in the 1960s, with the help of one of the original Italian soldiers who’d helped build it. It was restored again in the 1990s and is now a popular tourist attraction, and a category A listed building. It’s also one of the most interesting things to visit on Orkney, best viewed on a sunny day.

Chancel and Altar of the Italian Chapel
Chancel and Altar of the Italian Chapel
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