Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Italian Chapel

The Italian Chapel is a highly ornate Catholic chapel on Lamb Holm in Orkney, Scotland. It was built by Italian prisoners of war during World War II, 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. It was not completed until after the end of the war, and was restored in the 1960s and again in the 1990s. It is now a popular tourist attraction, and a category A listed building.  When I visited this site, the sky was overcast and there was an overwhelming bleakness to the landscape that must have made this place rather unpleasant as a prison camp.  The building is evocative and clearly represents the power of artistic expression to overcome day to day hardship. 
The craftsmanship is exemplary, and the wrought iron work is outstanding.  To make such beauty with little or no money and without any material compensation is what impressed me the most.  These men labored in tribute to God and were rewarded with strength of spirit, essential to survival in such conditions.  

The chapel was constructed from limited materials by the prisoners. Two Nissen huts were 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 POW from Moena.  He painted the sanctuary end of the chapel and fellow-prisoners decorated the entire interior.
They created a front facade out of concrete, concealing the shape of the hut and making the building look like a church.  Chiocchetti remained on the island to finish the chapel, even when his fellow prisoners were released shortly before the end of the war. 

Chiocchetti is remembered as having a composed serenity and his legacy is one of lasting political reconciliation and the peace that can be found from within.

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