Thursday, January 10, 2013

Island Paradise: Italian Chapel

In my last Island Paradise post, I mentioned that the Churchill Barriers were built using labor provided by a bunch of Italian prisoners of war from the North Africa campaign. (I imagine it must have been quite the shock to go from the deserts of North Africa to the austere conditions in Orkney.) The thing about Italians in the 1940's was that they were pretty devout Roman Catholics, and Catholicism wasn't exactly a big thing in Orkney. So, the Italians requested permission to turn a Quonset hut - the British term being a Nissen hut - into a chapel.

The POWs took a Quonset hut on the north end of Lamb Holm, within sight of the first Churchill Barrier, and converted it into a chapel. The chapel stands to this day, and it's one of the sites where Captain John took me on my first day in Orkney back in 2004. One of GBU-16's great uncles was one of the POWs in Orkney at the time, so when I announced that I was heading up there for a visit, she insisted that I go see the Italian Chapel - as if I'd miss it! So, on my last day in Orkney, as I was touring from southeast to northwest, I stopped in to the Italian Chapel and snapped a few pictures.

You can read more about the Italian Chapel and its history at Visit Orkney, Orkney Communities, and Wikipedia. I've heard every now and again that there are concerns about its deterioration over time, but it seems to be holding up pretty well. The Italian Chapel features the stations of the cross, a beautiful altar, and ornate decoration that - if memory serves - is actually painted onto plaster. To look at the building from the side, you'd have a hard time telling what's inside, but the front (and possibly the back?) exterior have been converted to complete the appearance of a chapel. I don't believe any services are held there anymore - case in point, it was mid-day on Sunday morning when I visited.

With my visit to the Italian Chapel complete, it was time to head northwest to the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.


  1. Wonderful pictures Tom. Uncle Neil from Kilmarnock would be glad to know the Chapel is still there and looking as good as always, and that Orkney is still as peaceful and magical as in the 1940s!

  2. Tom,

    Interesting that the Italians built a Catholic chapel at Lamb Holm. They built a chapel at Camp Atterbury, Indiana during WWII while held as POWs in the U.S. I visited it during a work related trip a few years ago, but failed to take any pictures. I did find a link on it: