Chapel’s real history revealed

Orkney’s Italian Chapel: The True Story of an Icon by Philip Paris. Published on 20th May by Black and White, £14.99.

Orkney’s Italian Chapel is a book that has waited to be written for more than 65 years and examines in detail one of the most inspiring stories to emerge from the Second World War.

Written by Philip Paris, author of the successful historical fiction The Italian Chapel, the non-fiction is the result of over four years of research.

During this period the author tracked down Italians who had been prisoners of war in the Orkney camps, as well as the descendents of some of the key artists who created the chapel and the men who ran Camp 60 in which it was built. Interviews with Orkney people in­clude a local man who helped to capture three Italians who had escaped off the island.

Everyone had a part of the chapel’s untold story and between them they answer the mysteries, and dispel the myths, that surround its history.

For the first time we understand why the building was saved only to be left to fall almost into ruin before being rescued. We find out the fate of the list of names buried under the statue of St George slaying the Dragon. We learn how the Italian blacksmith met the Orkney woman who he later falls in love with and how he left a token of his love in the chapel.

A selection of previously unpub­lished photographs, letters and mem­oirs provides a unique insight into life in the PoW camps and what it was like to work on the famous Churchill Barriers, the greatest engi­n­eering feat of the Second World War.

The Italians changed the land­scape of these northern Scottish islands forever and they also forged friendships with Orkney families that have continued down the generations. Today, the chapel is known around the world and some 90,000 people a year gaze upon its wonders.

Many chapels were built by Italian PoWs and although most were later lost there are several that are still in use. Orkney’s Italian Chapel gives a vivid and moving account of how men overcame huge obstacles to create these places of worship.

Like the chapel in Orkney, they reach out to us from the past … symbols of hope and peace from people long gone, for those yet to come.


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