Located on the tiny uninhabited island of Lamb Homb in Scotland’s memorable Orkney Islands, The Italian Chapel is an inspiring Catholic church that was constructed by prisoners of war during World War II. The site has become a popular tourist destination, attracting more than 100,000 visitors annually. The chapel was started as a makeshift structure consisting of two WWII-era Nissen huts that were adjoined and then covered in other materials. The effort and artistry that went into the chapel’s construction has fuelled awe and inspiration from both locals and tourists, leading to a push for multiple restoration projects in the 1960’s and 1990’s.
A Brief History of the Italian Chapel
In 1941, a total of 550 Italian soldiers were captured in North Africa during World War II and brought back to Orkney as prisoners of war (POW). There they were tasked with building the Churchill Barriers – a series of causeways that were strategically constructed to block naval access to the eastern entrance of Scapa Flow. Two hundred of the Italian POWs were brought to Camp 60 on Lamb Holm, where they were permitted to construct a place of worship in 1943.
Despite being built with limited and sometimes suboptimal materials, the humble project resulted in a chapel that would become the only structure left standing on the camp. While the construction was a concerted effort among all the prisoners, the interior design and artwork of one particularly skilled prisoner – Domenico Chiocchetti – made a tremendous impact and is largely credited for the chapel becoming the appreciated tourism attraction that it is today. Chiocchetti also assisted in the restoration efforts of the Chapel Preservation Committee during the early 60’s.
Things to Do Near The Italian Chapel
There are no residents or businesses to make the island of Lamb Holm socially interesting, but the grassy oceanic scenery and serene seclusion along with The Italian Chapel are reason enough to attract an influx of roughly 8,000 tourists per month. The quarry that was used to mine the materials for the Churchill Barriers has since flooded and now serves as a large fish farm. Other notable sites in Anglesey include Penmont Point, Penrhyn Castle, South Stack, the Menai Strait, Beaumaris Caste, and the Anglesey Sea Zoo.
Seeing the Rest of the Orkney Islands
The magical Orkney Islands are perhaps the most impressive highlight of Scotland’s legendary Northern Isle. Consisting of 70 separate islands, 50 of which are uninhabited, the archipelago is home to an extensive list of tourist attractions. Although listing everything there is to do in Orkney would require a separate guide, you’ll at least want to make sure you see Skara Brae, Mull Head Nature Reserve, Happy Valley, Yesnaby Cliffs, Broch of Gurness, The Old Man of Hoy (rock formation), and the Earl’s Palace.
The best way to see all of the above and more is to book an Orkney Island tour, most of which will naturally include a stop by the Italian Chapel. The most popular tours are based in Kirkwall but there are options available on all of the major inhabited islands.