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The Italian Chapel on Orkney

By Edited Oct 11, 2014 1 2

Places to Visit on Orkney - 2

Italian Chapel - WWII building

First things First

The Italian Chapel is just remarkable. The first time I ever went there it took my breath away. I don’t know what I expected to see but it was not something quite so beautiful, and so awe-inspiring. What mankind can do for the love of his God is just incredible. 

The Italian Chapel - Outside

Please take note that the chapel is still in regular use and many people, locals and otherwise, still get married there.

If paying a visit on a Sunday you should try to make sure it is not during a service. Inside you will find guide books in many languages and an honesty box for payment and donations.  

The Location

St George and The Dragon

The chapel is on Lambholm which is a small island south of mainland Orkney and connected to the mainland by Churchill Barrier No 1. When you visit the Chapel just take a moment or two outside to take in the scenery and look towards the barriers which are part and parcel of why the Chapel even exists. Take some more time to look at the statue of St George and the Dragon. This is made from scrap materials and is not much more than barbed wire and cement.



Just over the first Churchill Barrier.

Get Directions
Lambholm, Orkney Islands, UK

The History

It is known as The Italian Chapel because it was built by Italian prisoners of War during World War II. There are a number of information boards out side which are well worth reading which give a short history of the Chapel. I discovered, on these boards, that some of the POW’s moved from Orkney to a camp near my home town.  My Mother used to tell me how she loved to dance with the Italian POW’s towards the end of the war, when they were allowed to go into town. She said they were the best dancers, better than the local lads. It made me wonder if she had danced with some of the POW’s that had actually been responsible for building the barriers and the Chapel.

The Altar of the Italian Chapel

The barriers were built to protect Scapa Flow from ingress by enemy ships and submarines. The Italian prisoners who helped to build the barriers wanted some where to worship and were allowed to build the chapel using things that could be salvaged and gathered.  They joined together two Nissan huts to form the body of the church and with great ingenuity created what is an incredibly beautiful  and impressive exterior and  interior.   The chapel fell into disrepair after the war but was restored in the 60’s. Domenico Chiochetti, from Moena, who was the main artist on the original chapel, returned to help with the restoration.

From the outside you would never believe it is simply two Nissan huts. It looks just like a normal church building – well not really a normal British one. The artwork in the altar area is just magnificent. The ceiling makes you want to lie on the floor just so you can appreciate it fully. The lamps hanging from the roof are nothing more than cut tin cans. My favourite, though,  is the wrought iron railings. They are so delicate and intricate, I would love to have such work anywhere in my house or garden.

The Italian Chapel - Inside

In Conclusion

Churchill Barrier No 1

Please be respectful during your visit as I have been on several occasions when there have been coach loads of tourists snapping away and shouting to each other across the chapel which quite ruined the atmosphere for everyone there.

There is no charge for visiting but please sign the visitors book and donate to help with the upkeep of this wonderful, wonderful building.



Jan 15, 2014 6:45am
Italian Prisoners of War have built other chapels around the world, such as in Rift Valley, Kenya on the road to Naivasha
Jan 15, 2014 7:33am
They were also involved with a chapel near Lockerbie that I heard about only the other day. Thank you for reading.
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  1. Patrick Bailey Orkney. China: David and Charles, 2010.
  2. "The Barrier Isles." Visit orkney. 4/01/2014 <Web >

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