Sunday Evening Reflection – The Italian Chapel

Lamb Holm, Orkney

The idea of sacred spaces has been with us since ancient days.  Throughout the centuries, we have built temples to reach the heavens, made pilgrimages to seek knowledge, lived in the forests to connect with the earth.    

Even now, we create personal areas for meditation and reflection, a way to reaffirm our thoughts and feelings, to experience peace within ourselves. While many connect sacred spaces with spirituality or religious practices, there are times it relates to a special event or memory.   

The Italian Chapel, Orkney

We intuitively know when we have entered a sacred place.  Tonight, I invite you to come with me to The Italian Chapel, located on the Island of Lamb Holm in Orkney.

The year was 1942 when 550 Italian prisoners of WWII, captured in North Africa, were taken to Orkney to work on the construction of four causeways named the Churchill Barriers.  Camp 60 was home to these prisoners from January 1942 until September 1944.  They were housed in thirteen huts.

Together, these prisoners improved their new home, building paths and growing vegetable and flower gardens. They wanted to build a chapel. Two prefabricated steel structures called Nissen Huts were joined end-to-end.  The corrugated interior was covered with plasterboard to produce a smooth surface that could accommodate paint.   Fortunately, Camp Commandant, Major Buckland, recognized that prisoner Domenico Chiocchetti was an artist.  

The Italian Chapel, Orkney

Before he left Italy, Domenico’s mother gave him a small prayer card of the Madonna and Child by Nicolo Barabino.  This card was the template for his painting above the alter. Domenico worked tirelessly to finish the chapel, but it was still incomplete when WWII come to an end.  September 9, 1944, most of the Italian prisoners left the Island.  Domenico remained on Orkney to complete the font.

Lord Lieutenant of Orkney,  who owned Lamb Holm, promised the Italians that the Orcadians would care for the chapel.  This promise was fulfilled.

The Italian Chapel, Orkney

In 1964, Domenico returned to Orkney with his wife to present the chapel with the 14 wooden stations of the cross.  In 1992, fifty years after the they first arrived in Orkney, eight of the former prisoners came back to the Italian Chapel.  Domenico could not join them for he was too ill to travel. He lived to the age of 89 and passed peacefully in his home village of Moena, in the northern Italian region Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol.

The Italian Chapel, Orkney The Story of Camp 60

Letizia Chiocchetti, Domenico’s daughter, visited Orkney in April 2018 to present a carving in memory of her father.

It has been over seventy years since the completion of the chapel. Every year, 100,000 visitors come to this sacred space, recognizing that even in the most difficult of circumstances, we find ways to build resilience and hope.

47 Comments Add yours

  1. That is a fascinating story and you have illustrated it wonderfully with the lovely slideshow video. Take care and be safe Rebecca.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Clanmother says:

      Thank you, Graham!! Over the past month of our “solitude” I have been going back through my photos to remember the stories of places that I’ve been. The interesting thing about photos is they have the power to stop time, to crystallize moments. They become symbols for events and in so doing, safeguards our personal stories. You have a marvelous way of capturing time!!!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Yes, frozen moments in time, indeed 🙂 Glad to hear that you are keeping yourself occupied. Stay safe.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. In this period I am particularly touched by your hope inspiring presentation of the Italian Chapel and the work of the artist Domenico Chiocchetti from the Südttirol, when we know that this part of Italy is particulary affected by Covid-19. Un grande abbraccio e molte grazie Martina

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Clanmother says:

      Thank you so much for your heartwarming comments and for joining me on my walk through this beautiful chapel. When the Chapel was first constructed, the outside of the building was covered with concrete to hide the shape of the building and make it look more like a church. They used corned beef tins to fashion the light holders – what ingenuity. The Chapel is kept in immaculate condition. A huge restoration project was started in 1958 when the Chapel Preservation Committee was set up by the Orcadians. They asked Domenico to come back to help with the restoration. I can only imagine how wonderful it was to be part of this project.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Your posts and words have often given me much pleasure!
        It was also good luck for the prisoners so have such an insightful Camp Commandant, who gave them the possibility to develop their art, light included, instead of just tormenting them.
        Thank you once again for having shown us this Chapel:)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Clanmother says:

        I agree – the Camp Commandant chose wisely – his act of generosity was a gift that keeps on giving to this day. Thank you for joining me and for you encouraging comments. Hugs!

        Like

  3. Now I have actually been here, not as pristine a day but all the same, it has an otherworldly quality, along the linrs of this shouldnt be here, but it had endured

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Clanmother says:

      That is exactly what it felt like! How did this get here? What is the story? The chapel shouts out that “Something amazing happened here.” So many many questions came to mind. Yikes! I forgot to include my photo of of the stature of Saint George!!! And it will be St George Day this coming Thursday, April 23, 2020. We were lucky on the weather. Sunshine all day long.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Klausbernd says:

    Dear Clanmother,
    we have been there in 2017. We loved our trip through the very North of Scotland and to the Orkneys. It’s an amazing Chapel there, so out of place in a way.
    Keep well, big hugs and warm greetings
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Clanmother says:

      Ah, we followed in your footsteps. We were there on May 4, 2018. We just missed Domenico’s daughter who was there in April 2018. As you know, we always travel off season, so we were the only ones to visit that sunny day. Orkney has a rich history – there are so many many stories, dating back far enough to feel they belong to a mythological time. Sending hugs and love to my dear friends, the Fab Four of Cley!!! Stay safe and take good care!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Klausbernd says:

        Dear Clanmother Rebecca,
        the Orkneys are for us Viking country. We loved visiting the ancient sites there. Next time we’ll go up there we’ll visit the Shetland Island as well.
        With lots of love, hugs and best greetings
        The Fab Four of Cley
        🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Clanmother says:

        I have an idea! Let’s meet on New Year’s Eve at Lerwick and attend the “Up Helly Aa”. There is a huge torch procession. Now that is a Viking tradition that I would love to see. I understand all the hotels in Lerwick are booked years in advance. What a celebration!! Hugs coming back!!!

        Like

  5. J.D. Riso says:

    What a beautiful little chapel, and a wonderful story of its construction.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Clanmother says:

      Ah, Julie! We need this stories to remember that darkness and despair are not the only choices that can be made. Have I ever shared my most favourite quote about stories? Richard Wagamese, an Ojibwe, was a Canadian author and journalist, who overcame tragedy and shared his insights through his novels. Anyway, here is the quote that I keep close at hand:

      “All that we are is story. From the moment we are born to the time we continue on our spirit journey, we are involved in the creation of the story of our time here. It is what we arrive with. It is all we leave behind. We are not the things we accumulate. We are not the things we deem important. We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship – we change the world, one story at a time…

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Mary Jo Malo says:

    This is truly inspiring. As some of us struggle with anger or fear, what you’ve shared here is very welcome. Otherwise, I’d never have known their resilience and hope. Thank you and God bless you for bringing this gift.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Clanmother says:

      I felt your presence when I was creating the movie! We remember with symbols more than we do with facts, although when combined the memories take on lasting force. So it is with this memory of a tiny chapel, which to me, represents victory over darkness and despair. When I look back at this time of solitude, I want to remember that I chose courage, beauty, friendship, hope, kindness. Your poetry signifies that you are choosing the same pathway. Many hugs!!!!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Mary Jo Malo says:

        You inspire me so much, you can’t even imagine!!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Clanmother says:

        Hugs and love!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Ms Frances says:

    Thank you for this beautiful story of love and beauty. Such beautiful artwork! And Dedication. Prisoners that made such a worshipful contribution even is sad circumstances. When I think of this time and those who spent time during the Second World War in that area, I think of Paul Syers who was there during the African Campaign all up through Italy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Clanmother says:

      Paul experienced great sadness during WWII. But he was another one who chose to pursue kindness and compassion. Even as a child, I recognized that his strength (he was a big man) came from a gentle spirit. I am so glad that you enjoyed this post.

      Like

  8. A gentle walk through the history of a chapel – to educate and enlighten.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Clanmother says:

      Thank you for joining me, Jo!!! It means a great deal to me. How very well said – educate and enlighten. Those were dark days for the Italian prisoners. Instead of losing hope, they chose creativity and hard work. To this day, there is a very special bond between the two nations. This chapel is my reminder to embrace these days of uncertainty with hope. Hugs coming to you and Carina!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you, Rebecca – from both of us.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Jean-Jacques says:

    What a beautiful and touching story, of indeed a magnificent Chapel, à la Italiana ornate influence. What a wonderful tribute, Rebecca, you present to our devastatingly persecuted Italia brothers and sisters, who created this work of art. A memorable homage to the predecessors of one of today’s most heavily affected European countries, by this cursed Corvid-19.
    Thank you for this, on behalf our Italiano friends who are surviving this present hardship.
    With your permission I would take the liberty of forwarding your tribute to our Montecatini, Toscano friends…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Clanmother says:

      Thank you, dear Jean-Jacques, for your heartwarming comments. When the chapel came into view from a distance, I envisioned the time in which the chapel was constructed. The world was at war and the Italian prisoners had no certainty that their homes would be waiting for them when the war ended. Instead of choosing to despair, they created beauty. A wise commandant chose compassion for the prisoners. The choices made that day stand as a testament of how kindness and generosity brings healing. Please please please share this with your friends. My prayers are with them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I also was struck by the wisdom and compassion of the commandant.

        Liked by 3 people

  10. What an inspiring and uplifting post! It must have been such a spiritual experience to see it in person. Sacred ground, indeed.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Clanmother says:

      Thank you, Liz. We live in a complex world that thrives on speed. May we look for ways in which to create personal sacred spaces that allows for our mind to relax and become more flexible and resilient. Hugs!

      Liked by 2 people

  11. What a remote and beautiful location. Thanks for taking us there. Hope everything is well with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clanmother says:

      All is well on our side of the world. I am using this time to embrace creativity rather than tea. Can you imagine the work that went into transforming two sheds into a chapel.

      Like

  12. We certainly do find ways to maintain our hope.
    Just fantastic post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clanmother says:

      I’m so glad that you joined me. I agree wholeheartedly – we do find ways to maintain our hope. It comes when we connect with each other. Thank you for sharing your creative spirit for it builds the resilience of our blogging community. Hugs!

      Like

  13. Dave Astor says:

    Wonderful story, wonderfully told, Rebecca!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clanmother says:

      Thank you, Dave. Peter F. Drucker wrote that “Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.” (This was from my readings that were part of my previous career, which focused on management-related literature.) But I am finding that business is a only a subset of the broader narrative. When I think of The Italian Chapel, I know that there were courageous decisions made on both sides. The choice to be creative and build something when all around was chaos. The compassion to allow the creativity to evolve. May we make creative decisions as we face a time of grief and uncertainty. Your posts are a testament to courage and compassion.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dave Astor says:

        Eloquently said, Rebecca! A lot of wisdom in your comment.

        (And thank you for the kind words at the end!)

        Liked by 1 person

  14. A quickie here as dashing down stairs to get ready for a spesh visitor. This is the most amazing post and story I knew nothing of despite being a proud Scot. Thank you for this. I actually thought when I saw this in your page of posts it would be set in Italy–because of the artwork.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Clanmother says:

      Isn’t it interesting how ideas flow across the world with the movement of peoples. I was especially grateful to see that, even in the most difficult of circumstances, when both side seek positive outcomes, everyone benefits. In this case, many thousands of people have visited this chapel and have come away blessed by the spirit of cooperation. As Thomas Merton wrote: The deepest of level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless … beyond speech … beyond concept.” Thank you for joining me!! Hugs!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Even bigger hugs back. Your posts are written from your heart and your heart speaks volumes especially of your love of the world and the beauties in it. You are right that this has come from the most difficult of situations and it is tribute and monument to so much, most of all the best about people. And that the best can endure. I had a a wee smile reading it because there were many POW camps in the UK. There was one in Perthshire where the man a German died a few years ago and left all his money to the small town because he said it was the one place where he was treated with respect. Anyway we once visited a former cap, that is now a tourist attraction to the peoples’ war here, down in Yorkshire and they had this whole bit about how the German prisoners were disciplined, had their roll calls, marched about, did their work, their gym etc and the Italians just spent the whole time trying to chat up the local girls….

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Clanmother says:

        These are amazing stories that are held in the folds of history. As I look back on why I started to blog, the reason synthesized into one thought: “I am in search of stories” – stories that celebrate the narrative of humanity, of nature, of the air we breathe. Every year, I choose a word to consider. Last year, in 2019, the word was “resilience.” This year, the word that came to me was “reconciliation.” As it turned out – serendipity prevailed once again for it is a reminder that our generation must find a way to move forward, together. The first place to begin, perhaps the most difficult of all is being reconciled with ourselves. I enjoyed our conversations! Happy weekend!

        Liked by 1 person

  15. You are so right. We need to learn to move forward as one or there will be nothing much to move forward to, I do love stories. Little bits and pieces hidden in the cracks you sometimes have to dig out. My Mr wrote a play about the weaving in our town . We have done 3 runs of it and would have done a 4th this year were it not for this virus. But it is full of stories of people’s live, he felt it was important to tell.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Clanmother says:

      I would love to learn more about the play. Did you record/video any performance? Will you be doing some virtual discussions or excerpts. I am fascinated by the idea of weaving. My friend from high school days is a weaver, as was his mother before him. He travelled to Inverness to gain more knowledge. We are story, each one of us – looking forward to “weaving our stories together ” along the way.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. We will indeed weave our stories. We are hoping to do a read recording. Our last run was last November as part of the Hamish Matters festival in Blairgowrie to celebrate the centenary of their poet Hamish Henderson’s birth. We had been invited because the organiser had seen a performance in Dundee. We were asked earlier this year to get a recorded version for them and and we were going to tie that in with another run because the cast are marvelously keen and the Mr and I had done some extracts as part of a talk about the heroes and villains of Jutepolis–which is what our town if often known as. It was at the local library to raise funds for them, just before all this virus stuff kicked in. We had a full house and people were actually wanting to see the whole thing. so we started planning where to take it. It is a travelling theatre in the round ensemble type piece relying on props hats and placards, So it can go anywhere. But alas…. Dundee of course was a jute mill town in a huge way and the workforce was mainly female leading to a very interesting dynamic here as a city where today the women are ballsy and bolshie and take no nonsense off anyone. It is in our blood. Anyway what he did was chronicle the story of weaving in the city with two tour guides , who also step in and out of roles along with the rest of the cast, mainly in alight hearted way except when we had to be serious. It was mainly the jute story but there were other bits, Like the legend of how William Wallace slew the governor’s son and then managed to leg it disguised as a weaving woman. After the theatre co who wer eto do this play pulled out 6 weeks before the first run, we decided to call upon our own long experience of theatre which they knew nothing about thinking they had left him flat. I took on the directing and I decided we would do this epic fight scene with placards and Wallace would be strutting it but abso terrified when he’s to go up and smite Selby and the disguise was positively preening. It always got a great response. And I think we added anew way of doing ti in Blairgowrie after half way through (I play Wallace I looked down to see the petticoat Wallace does this great leap sideways into was not there. I set all the props every show and I couldn’t believe I never reset it after the rehearsal. Anyway I reckoned there was time to tun to the props table where my props were set and get it cos i knew I’d put it back there after the scene. So i did But it wasn’t there. The cast all sit round these tables and this guy who kind of does unofficial stage management was going what is it, so I am mouthing ‘ The petticoat.’ (I won’t tell you what I was mouthing next after we both looked under that table and all over it and it was nowhere in sight. Under or on any other table either and I could here the Mr who was now playing an English soldier, getting nearer and nearer to the bit where there’s nearly another fight and I was thinking, bet he does not even notice I am not standing where I am meant to be standing. With that inspiration struck and I thought why don’t I just grab the net curtain for the Mary Queen of Scots’ ghost scene. But Big Jane… believe me you would not want to mess with Jane…who was sitting there grabbed it back cos we both use that curtain before the ghost scene as the backdrop to the McGonagall stage fight scene. And I had only put that in cos in Blairgowrie we had no weaving machines to use. I thought I never thought to see the day where as director I am having to say ‘Gie’s it. Who’s in charge here? ‘ Anyway I got it and do you know our usual stage manager who had come to see the play and some other cast members who had not been available for the run were there too and they all thought ‘ Wow. What a great way they are doing this scene this run. as in poor Wallace is running round people trying to get a disguise….’

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  17. Can’t believe I left you a comment and it never posted. It was a great long one about stories and how we hoping to get an audio cos we were asked to after the last run which was in November at the Hamish Matters Festival in Blairgowrie by the organiser of that. We had hoped to tie it in with a rerun this year but that may be next year now. It is very much a travelling type in the round production with a small cast who spend the entire time onstage acting a ton of parts as the history of weaving in Dundee is zipped through. Our town was of course known as Juteopolis so there’s a lot to tell.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Clanmother says:

      It sound marvelous. Will stay tuned….

      Liked by 1 person

  18. We had such a wonderful time doing it. We took it on to do after the theatre co pulled out with 6 weeks to go, little knowing that we had had years of experience that way. The only prob was getting a cast but we did it and they have been great through thick and thin. We have had such laughs too. Our motto is every night a different show and every show a different placard. We have not stuck to the script once. It is epic actually!!!

    Liked by 2 people

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