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.

37 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

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