In August 2005 author Philip Paris and his wife Catherine were on honeymoon in Orkney when they visited the Italian Chapel on the tiny island of Lamb Holm. They were both deeply moved by this sublime and profoundly spiritual place.
In general terms the story of the building of the Italian Chapel is well known. It was constructed by Italian prisoners of war encamped on Lamb Holm to help with the building of the Churchill Barriers, causeways that today link together the islands down the eastern side of Scapa Flow and which were initially intended to prevent U-Boat attacks on the naval anchorage here following the sinking of HMS Royal Oak on 14 October 1939. Yet the more Philip Paris learned about the story of the Italian Chapel the more it became clear that no-one had ever really set out to research it in detail. He decided to remedy that gap, and "Orkney's Italian Chapel: The True Story of an Icon" is the result.
The story as told by Philip Paris is even more fascinating than the simplified version that has entered the popular consciousness of the Orkney islands over the past 65 years. And it has to be said that his decision to undertake this research came only just in time, while some of those directly involved in Italy and the UK were still around to be interviewed: in other cases Paris spoke to children or other relatives of the key participants and had extensive access to private correspondence and diaries.
The book is especially strong in the way it sets the building of the Chapel in context, detailing the story of the bringing of the Italian prisoners to Orkney, the tensions that existed between them and their captors over working conditions on the barriers, and the roles played in the chapel by a rather larger cast of key players than usually get mentioned. Having discussed the background to the Chapel and its construction in great detail, Philip Paris then goes on to recount its story in the years since, and the work of those who have ensured its survival. He concludes with a fascinating survey of other Italian Chapels built elsewhere in the UK and the world.