Tuesday, 3 January 2017

September 9th: We visit the Italian Chapel

Later in the afternoon, we left the neolithic age far behind and journeyed towards Scapa Flow to see the Italian Chapel at Lambholm. We were rather drowsy and overly full of facts as well as food and almost didn't want to go; however, we did. Carrie, our See Orkney tour guide, said that at this point in the day, she would often be chatting about Orkney history only to look in her rear view mirror to see everyone sound asleep. She said they would try to appear as if they had not missed anything, but they gave themselves away by asking questions about what she had just talked about.

I thought, how rude of them to nod off. However, a short while later, I succumbed to Sleep's beckoning and drifted off. However, when I woke up, I said to Carrie at least I know not to ask any questions, which made her laugh.

It turned out that the chapel was a treat I am glad we didn't miss. It was built during the Second World War. In 1942, about 550 Italian prisoners of war were brought to the Orkneys mainly from North Africa to provide labour for building a causeway to better protect the English Fleet often stationed at nearby Scapa Flow.

In the 18 months that they were in Camp 60, the POW's grew flower and vegetable gardens, and also built concrete walkways,  and constructed a theatre and recreation hut - with three pool tables - built from concrete. Apparently there was a lot of concrete on account of the construction of the causeway. In 1943, the camp commandant and the padre decided a chapel would be a good addition.

Prisoners, including master craftsman Domenico Chiocchetti, set about using found materials to convert two Nissen huts into a place of worship. This is the resulting exterior:


The crucifix shrine, barely visible in the image above, is more visible below.  It was donated by Chiocchetti's hometown the Commune of Moena in 1961. (My source is an intriguing account found at http://s3.spanglefish.com/s/34070/documents/book/italian-chapel-engish.pdf ) Greg is hunched over in the wind, which blew out the rainy weather from earlier in the day.

A prisoner fashioned the image of Christ over the entrance:

Apparently the candle holders in the sanctuary were fashioned from corned beef tins. Another prisoner, Giuseppe Palumbi, a blacksmith by trade, made the delicate rood screen, a task which took him four months to complete:

Chiocchetti and other prisoners created the rest of  interior.The corrugated hut interior was covered in plasterboard.  What appears to be brick and stone is painted - a most convincing  use of  trompe d'oeil. This is the ceiling in the sanctuary, barely visible in my photo above:

 A church in his home town of Moena might have been Chiocchetti's  inspiration for the ceiling:

Images of the four evangelists and of St. France of Assisi were painted to look like stained glass windows: 

The square objects on the wall are depictions of the stations of the cross. Chiocchetti and his wife donated them 20 years later on a return visit in 1964  and  participated, along with 200 Orcadians, in a rededication service.

Outdoors, in what was the centre of the camp, Chiocchetti constructed a statue of St. George and the dragon  - on a base of barbed wire covered with concrete.

Source http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/eastmainland/italianchapel/

Most of the prisoners were moved to Yorkshire, England in 1943, before the construction of the chapel was completed. Chiocchetti stayed behind to finish the concrete baptismal font. The basin is from a vehicle exhaust (according to Wikipedia), and Carrie noted the base is the shock absorber of a truck. The font moves slightly if you touch it gently,

The little chapel is a miracle, as the information photo below suggests. The local  Orcadians promised to maintain the chapel and have done so for the last 70 plus years. Eight surviving  prisoners returned for a 50th anniversary celebration in 1992. Alas, Chiocchetti was too ill to attend (He died in 1999). A special mass, attended by his daughter, was held in 2014  to celebrate its 70th  anniversary. 

Carrie said that for many years you could just walk up to it and enter, but the site was being damaged (either by overuse or deliberate vandalization), and so a ticket booth was built and the area was fenced. It remains a touching  symbol of hope and reconciliation.

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