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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Highland

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Orkney's Italian Gift

The one thing still lacking in the camp which deeply affected the morale of the prisoners was a chapel. This longing of the prisoners had been picked up on by the official War Office Inspector of POW Camps. In 1943, the arrival of a new camp commandant, Major T P Buckland, and an enthusiastic padre, Father Gioachino Giacobazzi, was to provide the catalyst that was to bring about the building of what became the Italian Chapel. In late 1943, Major Buckland gave the prisoners the use of two Nissen huts joined together, with the original intention of using one as a chapel and the other as a school.

Prisoners outside the chapel
It was at this point that Chiocchetti allowed his imagination to soar free, and what emerged was a thing of wonder. He had little at his command but materials that were to all intents and purposes useless pieces of scrap, but he managed to bring together a team of prisoners with particular skills to aid him.

Among them were the electricians, Primavera and Micheloni; Palumbo, who had been a foundry worker before the war; and Bruttapasta, who was renowned for his work with cement.

The first part of the chapel to be decorated was the chancel, which remains the most beautiful part of the chapel. The corrugated iron of the hut was covered by plasterboard, and an altar, altar rail and holy water stoop were moulded in concrete. Behind the altar and sandwiched between two windows of painted glass, representing St. Francis of Assisi and St. Catherine of Siena respectively, Chiocchetti painted his masterpiece and perhaps the defining part of the chapel with its symbolic images of peace and friendship.

Interior of the Italian Chapel
His fresco of the Madonna and Child was based on a prayer card his mother had given to him as he marched off to war, and which he had carried with him ever since. It was a depiction of the Madonna of the Olives, by the 19th Century Italian artist Nicolo Barabina

In Chiocchetti's representation of this, the baby Jesus carries an olive branch, as a symbol of peace. The Virgin is surrounded by Cherubs, the one to the left carrying the heraldic badge of Moena, a ship sailing from a tempest into calm weather, the one on the right sheathing a sword in its scabbard. The sanctuary vault was decorated by the painting of Seraphim and Cherubim and the symbols of the four evangelists.

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