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In WEE BITS, in The Mag., thre's an article on the correct colour of Blue for The Saltire WELCOME to Find it in Scotland. The site's navigation menu Main Headings are down the left-hand panel. Click on these to see what's in each one. Some sections have a LOT in them.
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~Buildings of Scotland: The Italian Chapel, Orkney~ 

THE ITALIAN CHAPEL FROM THE SIDE, SHOWING THE NISSEN HUTS BEHIND THE FACADE

On a barren windswept Orkney island sits a Nissen hut from the Second World War.  There’s nothing else…no tea room…no facilities; just a Nissen hut and nearby a small concrete statue of St George slaying the Dragon. Yet the building, converted by Italian POWs, is one of the greatest symbols of hope and peace to come out of the war and today it is Orkney’s most visited tourist attraction, with some 90,000 people a year gazing upon its wonders...

...and it is a wonder; a monument of the human spirit’s ability to lift itself above great hardship and adversity. The craftsmen who turned bully beef tins into lanterns and salvaged scraps from half sunken ships, reach out more than sixty-five years later and connect people regardless of their nationality, race or beliefs. It reached out to the demolition team sent to take down the camp after the war, touched them so that they disobeyed their orders and left the little building all alone in the field.

AINTERIOR OF THE ITALIAN CHAPEL SHOWING THE MAGNIFICENT REPRESENTATION OF THE MADONNA AND CHILD, IN THE ITALIAN CHAPELt the beginning of 1942, around 1,200 Italian POWs arrived in Orkney and were split between Camp 60 on the tiny Orkney island of Lamb Holm and Camp 34 on the island of Burray. The men had been sent to help build the Churchill Barriers, to seal the eastern entrances to Scapa Flow, and they swapped the searing heat of Africa for a fierce Orkney winter. The work and living conditions were harsh and within weeks the Italians went on strike! No small thing when you’re a POW.

After a period of negotiation (and punishment rations) they did go back to work but everything about their captivity was alien, from the food to the weather. They longed for and worried about loved ones and friends back home and they missed having a place to worship. Men despaired,MORE DETAIL FORM THE INTERIOR OF THE ITALIAN CHAPEL, SHOWING THE ORNATE METALWORK, AND AUTHOR PHILIP PARIS, WHO HAS WRITTERN A ROMANTIC NOVEL BASED ON THE STORY OF THE CHAPEL, AND THE PASSIONS OF THE MEN WHO BUILT IT. to the point where several fell ill with psychological problems. However, in September 1943 the small liberty boat landed a Franciscan priest on Lamb Holm and the idea of building a chapel became a possibility.

The British camp commander helped to obtain two Nissen huts, which were moved to the camp and joined together. They Italians lined one end with plasterboard with the aim of creating a chancel and a highly skilled artist called Domenico Chiocchetti painted his masterpiece of the Madonna and Child. With the ever ready supply of cement they built an altar and altar rail. Candlesticks were made from the brass stair rods of DETAIL OF THE BEAUTIFUL AND ORNATE IRONWORK IN THE CHAPELa blockship. An Italian blacksmith built a beautiful rood screen. He would later fall in love with a local Orkney woman and leave a token of his love in the chapel. It’s still there today, only no-one had ever realised its meaning.

As the chancel neared completion, it was decided to convert the THE FACADE OF THE ITALIAN CHAPELremainder of the building into a nave. It seemed that everyone wanted to help. Some Italians sold trinkets and craftwork to raise a fund for items that could not be made. With the nave well under way, the men felt that the entrance did not reflect the beauty inside and so they built an impressive façade.

The chapel was in use for only a short while before the Italians were moved to Yorkshire, but its creation improved morale throughout Camp 60 and saved some men from the depths of hopelessness. Many chapels were built by Italians in POW camps around the world. Most were taken down after the war, including the chapel built in the other Orkney camp, on Burray. But the little chapel on Lamb Holm has survived bureaucratic orders and stormy Orkney winters. And so it stands today…fragile and immortal…a symbol of hope and peace from people long gone for those yet to come.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

[we are indebted to author Philip Paris for this text. Philip has written a romantic historical fiction -The Italian Chapel which tells the true story of how the building came into existence. You'll find more details of his new book- (published in September 2009 - in our section - Scottish Literature - use THIS LINK to go directly there) - , and of another,a non-fiction book, Orkney’s Italian Chapel: The True Story of an Icon, which will be published by Black & White in May 2010.]

 

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