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The Italian Chapel - Historical Fiction

Available in hardback, paperback, large print, ebook and audio (CD and tapes).

The Italian Chapel is a story of forbidden love, lifelong friendships torn apart, despair and hope, set against the backdrop of the creation of a symbol that is known around the world. Amidst strikes, conflicts and untold hardships, the Italian prisoners of war sent to a tiny Orkney island during WW2 create a monument to the human spirit’s ability to lift itself above great adversity. One artist falls in love with a local Orkney woman and leaves a token of his love in the chapel … it is still there today, and until The Italian Chapel, no-one has ever known its true meaning.


A FEW COMMENTS AND REVIEWS ...

‘The story of the Italian chapel is one of the most inspiring to emerge from the Second World War and I’m delighted that Philip Paris has chosen to tell it. In these troubled times, we can all read, mark and learn, though whether we will is another matter.’
Alan Plater, CBE (for services to drama)

‘When I read The Italian Chapel, I felt as though it had been written at that very time, when we were still in the camp, not more than 60 years later.’
Coriolano ‘Gino’ Caprara, ex-POW, Orkney, WW2

‘In the First World War, the story that captured the imagination of people of goodwill was that of enemy soldiers in the trenches uniting in the singing of Stille Nacht (Silent Night).  The story of the Italian chapel is similar but, told in this new and moving way by Philip Paris, I think it is even more inspirational.’
Society of Jesus.

‘If you buy one Orkney related book this year, make sure it is this one.  Philip Paris injects the story with just the right amount of additional compassion and life to make the story compelling to all.’
Living Orkney 

‘They didn’t dig a tunnel…they built a chapel.  It’s a symbol.’  It certainly is – and of so many different things.  Not just of pious persistence in adversity but of the human longing for home or for beauty amidst bleakness and of the improvisatory capacity of art.  It all comes together in Philip Paris’s thinly fictionalised account of how Domenico Chiocchetti and his fellow prisoners created a bit of Italy in this windswept corner of a Scottish island.  The result is a curious mixture, and still more curious is the fact that it seems to work.  A moving story, memorably told.’
The Scotsman

‘The Italian chapel is also a straightforward good read bolstered by some solid research which helps make the tale all the more believable.’
Ross-Shire Journal

‘The novel itself is a fictionalised account of the stories of many of those there – 90% is based on reality, with a healthy dose of creativity to fill in the gaps.  It reveals a fascinating story with Orkney history, and has a really good feel good factor that makes me really want to visit the islands, a place I am sad to say I have yet to visit.  Believe me, you’ll want to read the book.’
Scottish Genealogy News and Events

‘This book tells an unusual and touching wartime story, using imaginative recreation, based on many interviews with the original protagonists and their descendents…The book brings out strongly the humour and warmth that characterised relations between the POWs and the local inhabitants, thrown into close proximity by wartime events.’
Rivista magazine

 

... AND ON AMAZON ...

‘The Italian Chapel grips you on the first page and does not let go until the last page, and even then it stays with you ... an excellent read and the work of a craftsman.’ 
S A Calderbank

‘I found this book to be so well researched that I felt so drawn into the characters of the story and by the end of it very emotional.’
Julia Campagnola

‘It's a great, easy read but it certainly gave me an interesting perspective on the war that I hadn't previously considered. It's a book that will suit a wide range of ages and interests.’
Diana Cresswell

‘I thoroughly enjoyed this moving and thoroughly researched story of friendship and the indomitable human spirit of men during wartime ... Paris has a warm and highly engaging style of writing, coupled with a meticulous regard for historical detail.’
Michael Cameron

‘Philip Paris has written a book which captures exactly the spirit of those captured in WW2, at least those in Europe. It does not seem to matter which side one was on, the similarities are more real than the differences. The story touched the emotions and once picked up the book had to be finished sooner rather than later.’
Dr S P Robinson

‘A very different wartime story with a bittersweet feel, showing how thin the line between friend and foe can be, and what man can achieve in the face of adversity. Really makes me want to go and see this place for myself! A highly recommended read!’
S Humphrys

 

Orkney’s Italian chapel is one of the greatest symbols of hope and peace to emerge from the Second World War and today its fame has spread far beyond the tiny island of Lamb Holm on which it sits.  Some 90,000 visitors a year gaze upon this incredible monument of the human spirit’s ability to lift itself above huge hardship, loneliness and adversity. 

Italian Chapel showing the frontage made of concrete

Yet the basic Nissen hut was converted largely out of scraps; bully beef tins turned into lanterns, the brass stair rods from a half sunken ship made into candlesticks, leftover cement used to create an altar and altar rail.  The result is something that goes beyond materialistic beauty…and the result is beautiful, despite the materials used.

The story of the chapel begins at 1.20 am, on the morning of Saturday, 14th October, 1939 when three torpedoes tore into the side of HMS Royal Oak.  The ship was anchored in Scapa Flow, harbour for the British Home Fleet, and sank in around thirteen minutes with the loss of 833 lives.  The German U-Boat slipped back out to sea through a gap in the defences between Lamb Holm and mainland Orkney.

The chapel ceiling painted by Demenico Chiocchetti

Winston Churchill ordered that the eastern entrances into Scapa Flow should be sealed by barriers and the result was that more than 1,000 Italian POWs were shipped from North Africa.  They arrived at the beginning of 1942 and were split between Camp 60 on Lamb Holm and Camp 34 on Burray.  The conditions and weather were harsh and within weeks the men went on strike!  Not an insignificant action when you’re a POW. 

After a period of negotiation (and punishment rations) they did go back to work.  But everything was alien and, far away from families and loved ones, many Italians despaired to the point where several fell ill with psychological problems.  However, in September 1943 a priest arrived at Camp 60 and the idea of building a chapel became a possibility.

The British camp commander helped to obtain two Nissen huts, which were moved to Camp 60 and joined together.  Domenico Chiocchetti, an artist who specialised in painting religious icons, gathered a team of craftsmen.  Amongst them was a blacksmith who had fallen in love with a local woman.  He left a token of his love in the chapel.  (It’s still there today, but no-one had ever realised its true meaning).

The Italian Chapel Roodscreen

The chapel was in use for only a short while before the Italians were moved to a camp in Yorkshire, but even when it was not much more than an empty Nissen hut, the morale and wellbeing of the men were improved greatly.  After the war, the demolition team sent to tear down the camp refused to touch the chapel and it was left alone in the field.  The building was saved from falling into ruin by a group of local people and the chapel preservation committee continues its work to this day. 

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