It was no ‘ordinary’ Mass that was celebrated in the Italian Chapel on Lambholm in Orkney on the 28th April. There was a ‘guest of honour’, none other than Letizia Chiocchetti, daughter of Domenico, who was accompanied by her husband Elio Fonti. Domenico Chiocchetti was one of the Italian prisoners of war who, when a prisoner on the island during the war, played a major role in transforming the chapel into a place of adoration and beauty and subsequently international acclaim. Letizia presented to the chapel a new figure of Christ for the crucifix (which stands outside the chapel) in memory of her father, which following concelebration of the Mass by Fr Peter Kelly and Bishop Hugh Gilbert, was blessed by Bishop Hugh.
The chapel held 30 people who were specially invited to the Mass and Blessing, along with a similar number of local parishioners. The guests included Letizia and her husband Elio, members of the Italian Chapel Preservation Committee with their spouses/partners and the Orkney Islands Council convener, Harvey Johnson. The other guests with an Italian connection were Carmela Riccio and her sister Paolina Morra (their father Vincenzo Collella was on Lambholm with Domenico Chiocchetti) and they were accompanied by two nieces Elda Antonelli and Anna Baldwin.
Fr Peter Kelly said:
“Letizia has gifted the new figure of Christ for the crucifix that stands outside the chapel and had arranged for it to be made in Moena, Italy, the home town of her father, Domenico. During the winter in Orkney the original cross and canopy were badly damaged so the Italian Chapel Preservation Committee had arranged for a new cross and canopy to be made by a local joiner. This, together with the figure of Christ, were blessed in a very special ceremony.”
John Muir, one of the founding members of the Committee, now in his 80’s, has over the years kept in touch with Letizia and others with links to the chapel and has visited them many times over in Italy as well as hosting them on their visits to Orkney. He only recently resigned as Secretary of the Committee but is still very active, and is an honorary member of the Committee and continues to be involved.
Bishop Hugh added:
“The Italian Chapel on Lambholm is one of the several, unexpected jewels in the crown of the Orkney isles. Finished in 1944, it is a lasting monument to the faith and artistic prowess of the Italian Prisoners of War sent there by the British to help construct the Churchill Barriers protecting the great natural harbour of Scapa Flow from enemy incursions.
“After the departure of the prisoners, the exquisite chapel, built out of two Nissen huts, using among other things car exhausts and used bully beef tins, began to deteriorate. Thanks to a local landowner and to John Muir and others (who would form the Italian Chapel Preservation Committee active to this day), not only was the chapel ‘rescued’ but Domenico Chiocchetti, the principal artist, was invited back to Orkney. During his visit he was only too happy to carry our restoration work on the chapel that he and his fellow countrymen had accomplished as Prisoners of War in Camp 60.
“And so this place of prayer has become, yes, a tourist attraction, but also an occasion of friendship and reconciliation with former ‘enemies’. Orkney has a genius for bringing opposites together, and proved it again on the 28th April. A wayside Crucifix outside the chapel was in need of repair. Domenico’s daughter, Letizia, provided a new Christ figure. She and other Italian descendants of the prisoners of war joined the Convenor of the Orkney Islands Council, members of the Preservation Committee and the local Catholic community to celebrate Mass and bless the new Crucifix.
“In many ways, the Chapel – where Mass is celebrated monthly from April to September – is now in its prime, a symbol of faith, prayer and reconciliation.”
In his homily, Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen pointed out the timeliness of the prayer carried in his pocket by Domenico throughout the war: “May people, overcoming individual and national egoisms, recognise themselves as brothers and sisters, refrain from discord, love and help one another and form one heart with Your heart, O Jesus, in loving, praising and blessing the common Father who is in heaven.”