During World War II over 500 Italian prisoners were brought to the Scottish Orkney Islands where they erected the deceptively simple place of worship now known simply as the Italian Chapel.
Made to build a stone barrier to an English causeway, the Italian prisoners were allowed to build their own church but were not given a wealth of materials. Joining two large tin enclosures (one of which used to be used as the rec room), the prisoners made a long chapel, on the front of which they built a wooden facade that gave the church a more austere appearance when viewed straight on, almost like a Hollywood set. Inside the tin huts, the sloped walls and ceiling were painted to look like they were made of stone, adorned with classical religious reliefs and frescoes.
Most of the prisoners were released just prior to the end of World War II, but the chapel’s primary decorator, Domenico Chiocchetti actually stayed behind to finish the little chapel that had become a holy refuge for the prisoners. After Chiocchetti’s stewardship, the chapel fell into disrepair, but was restored both in the 1950’s and the 1990’s.
The Italian Chapel was built out of wartime necessity but has been cared for and restored with almost as much care as any of the medieval churches it was decorated to emulate.