I know that the chapel was used before it was finished, and that Domenico Chiocchetti (and possibly others?) stayed behind to finish the work on the building, but could you please tell me when the chapel was first used for worship?
So sometime late 1943 two nissen huts were given to the prisoners. They left the island 9 Sep 1944. Difficult to say exactly when it was first used as a chapel though.. owing to the fortunes of war the chapel was in use a very short time.
It was built during World War II by Italian prisoners of war 1942-4 when i belive they used as a place of worship during construction of the chapel.
Have a great trip
Scala Flow was always a thorn in the defence of the fleet.
World War one introduced some sunken block ships, but security was never fully 100%.
On the 13th of October 1939 the German U-boat U47, under the command of Lt. Gunther Prien, slipped undetected into Scapa Flow. Prien launched a torpedo attack on the battleship HMS Royal Oak which was lying at anchor in Scapa Bay and within minutes the huge ship sank to the bottom of Scapa Flow with the loss of 833 crew.
U47 slipped away undetected through Kirk Sound but the terrible loss of life and obvious failings of the defences to Scapa Flow prompted the call for a more substantial eastern defence of the naval port. In March 1940 Winston Churchill approved the building of ‘causeways’ to link the south isles to Mainland Orkney and so closing off the eastern approaches.
Camp 34 on Burray & Camp 60, as they were known, were Italian prisoner of war camps, for POWs taken prisoner in North Africa in 1942, transferred to Orkney in 1943, to help build the Churchill Barriers. These were started in 1940 by Balfour Beatty, using some 40 000 cubic metres of rock & 300, 000 tonnes of concrete.
When they first learned of the work, and the camp leaders claimed the work was warlike, and that the PoWs were being put in danger by being located near the home fleet base. The leaders of both camps demanded that the prisoners be moved to a safe site where no warlike work was to be carried out. The authorities refused, both camps went on strike, and were consequently placed on a 14 day punishment diet of bread and water, with normal rations every four days. A new commander was assigned to the camps, a British major who could speak Italian. Able to communicate properly with the PoWs, he gained their trust and arranged meetings with the town's provost (mayor) to discuss the work. Such work would have been illegal under the Geneva Convention but for the fact that the barriers all carried roads between the islands, and using PoWs for projects which benefitted the local community was exempted under the Convention. The PoWs agreed that they would be building causeways linking the islands to the benefit of the local communities, and work resumed. The troublemakers who had initiated the strike were identified, and removed to other camps.The Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm is almost the only remaining evidence of Camp 60, one of two PoW camps (the other was Camp 34, Burray) occupied by the PoWs (mostly Italian) who worked on the construction of the Churchill Barriers. Much of the credit for this building is given to one man, artist and sculptor Domenico Chiocchetti, also responsible for the altarpiece.
The chapel is based on two Nissen huts which have been joined together in an east-west orientation, as per ecclesiastical tradition, with a bright frontispiece to the west having Doric columns supporting a pediment. A date panel surmounts the entrance, and carries the legend AD MCMXLIV (1944) with a pointed-arched bell cote above. The corrugated iron exterior is hidden behind a plasterboard interior wall, painted to represent a stone interior with a vaulted ceiling.
The building was renovated during the 1960s, and thousands of visitors now travel from throughout the world to visit the site. (Secret Scotland)
Work soon started and continued a-pace but a shortage of local labour was causing delays so in early 1942 Italian POWs were shipped in to work on the huge building project. Many camps were established to house these POWs. The Italians POW status changed however in September 1943 when Italy capitulated to the allies and the workers were given more freedom and were actually paid properly for their labours.
The Italians requested a proper place of worship and with the help of padre Father Giacobazzi and Domenico Chiocchetti persuaded the then camp commandant, Major T. P. Buckland, to allow them to build a chapel on Lamb Holm. They were given two Nissen huts joined end to end to convert on the condition all work was carried out outside working hours on the barriers. So the foundations were laid for what has become Orkney’s most visited attraction.
One end of the hut was lined with plasterboard to form a sanctuary and an altar, altar-rail and holy water stoop were expertly fashioned from concrete. Domenico Chiocchetti started work on what has become widely recognised as an amazing body of work given the restrictions on time and materials. With the success of the adornment in the sanctuary it was felt the whole chapel should be lined and the entire interior of the chapel was painted to depict brick walls, carved stone, vaulted ceilings and buttresses. Frescos of angelic figures, stained glass windows and an altarpiece depicting the Madonna and Child surrounded by cherubic figures with the scroll inscribed ‘Queen of Peace pray for us’ complete the interior paintwork.
All the materials for the decoration were scavenged from wherever possible. Wood was sourced from a wrecked ship for the tabernacle. A rod-screen and gates enclosing the sanctuary were expertly fashioned by Palambi from scrap metal. He also made two candelabra which stand on the alter alongside four brass candelabra made by Primavera.
Chiocchetti’s work and enthusiasm for the project is indisputable but many others contributed extensively to the project. Buttapasta, a cement worker; Palumbi, a smith; Primavera and Micheloni, electricians; Barcoglioni, Battiato, Devitto, Fornasier, Pennisi, Sforza and others also added their assistance.
As work progressed inside it was decided to construct a more attractive façade for the front of the huts and Buttapasta set to work building an ornate frontage with pillars, Gothic pinnacles, archway and bell-tower. Directly above the door on the front of the archway Pennisi sculpted a head of Christ from red clay complete with thorn crown. Finally a thick layer of cement was applied to the entire outside of the Nissen huts to protect it from the Orkney weather.
With the work on the Churchill Barriers complete the prisoners were shipped out in September 1944. Chiocchetti remained behind for two weeks to complete the font which he was working on. The chapel had only been used for a very short time but it remains today as an amazing testament to man’s endeavour to overcome adversity and a dedication to their faith.
In 1960 Domenico Chiocchetti (then residing in Moena, Italy) returned to Orkney to assist with a restoration project. He remained for three weeks carrying out a variety of repairs and on his departure he wrote a letter to the people of Orkney in which he said:
“The chapel is yours - for you to love and preserve. I take with me to Italy the remembrance of your kindness and wonderful hospitality. . .
I thank the authorities of Kirkwall, the courteous preservation committee, and all those who directly or indirectly have collaborated for the success of this work and for having given me the joy of seeing again the little chapel of Lambholm where I, in leaving, leave a part of my heart”. - Domenico Chiocchetti - 11th April 1960. (Visit Scotland)
At the entrance to the Chapel, there is a concrete on a barbed wire Statue of St George, which has the following inscription "P di C, Italiani, Li 7-8-1943". (Secret Scotland)
So in answer to your question - it is likely that the nissan huts in a raw state could have been used, as soon as they were constructed in 1943. Building works, were not completed until two weeks after September 1944.
I hope the background and history of the site, is also of relevance.
The Italian prisoners of war were building the Churchill Barriers, blocking the eastern approaches to Scapa Flow. There was no Chapel for them. In 1943, two Nissan huts were made available and they worked on the building until the summer of 1944. They had only been in use as a place of worship for a couple of weeks, when the POWs were transferred in September 1944 as the Barriers were complete. Domenico Chiocchetti was allowed to stay on a further two weeks to complete the font. He returned in 1960 and the Italian Chapel became a listed building in the Eighties.
As far as I understood it was used prisoners of war as a place of worship.
a small correction:
the inscription below the St. George statue now looks like "P di C, Italiani, Li 7-8-1943", but actually was "P di G", standing for Prigionieri di Guerra (=Prisoners of War).
At some time the letter G probably fell and was lost: the scottish people, with no knowlege of the original italian meaning put a letter "C" instead... (you can see that the font is different from the other letters)
Get quick answers from The Italian Chapel staff and past visitors.