Obituary: Domenico Chiocchetti - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

Obituary: Domenico Chiocchetti

IN JUNE 1940, the Italian people, tired and bewildered, were plunged into war by Mussolini. In a few years, millions of their men, among them a gifted painter, Domenico Chiocchetti, were killed or taken prisoner. Chiocchetti, captured in North Africa, was one of several hundred prisoners sent to Orkney, to the wet, windswept island of Lamb Holm, to help erect the Churchill Barriers sealing the eastern approaches to Scapa Flow.

A greater contrast to the green pastoral valley in the Dolomites where he had grown up could hardly be imagined, but in these bleak and inauspicious surroundings Chiocchetti set about easing his homesickness by erecting an extraordinary reminder of his native land.

Chiocchetti began work on the Italian Chapel, as it has come to be known, late in 1943, when two Nissen huts, joined end to end, were made available to the prisoners of Camp 60. Joined by a band of felicitously named helpers - Bruttapasta, a cement worker, Primavera, an electrician, Palumbo, a blacksmith - he began by hiding the corrugated iron of the hut behind a facade of plasterboard which he then painted with trompe-l'oeil brickwork and carved stone. An altar, altar-rail and holy-water stoop were moulded in cement by Bruttapasta. A tabernacle was fashioned from timber salvaged from a wreck, which also provided iron for two candelabra. Palumbo worked for four months on a wrought-iron rood-screen of unusual intricacy and beauty. Fellow prisoners, inspired by the chapel, gave up cigarette money from their welfare fund to send to a firm in Exeter for two heavy gold curtains to hang either side of the sanctuary.

The sanctuary vault was frescoed by Chiocchetti with the symbols of the four evangelists, and lower down on either side he painted two Cherubim and two Seraphim. In the very centre of the vault hovered the White Dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit.

Chiocchetti's masterpiece was a painting of the Madonna and Child behind the altar. Based on Nicolo Barabina's Madonna of the Olives, a battered postcard of which Chiocchetti carried in his pocket, it depicts the Virgin Mary bearing in her arms the infant Jesus, who offers his mother an olive branch. Above the mother and child, cherubs hold a scroll inscribed REGINA PACIS ORA PRO NOBIS ("Queen of Peace, pray for us"). One cherub also holds up a blue shield, the heraldic badge of Chiocchetti's home town Moena, showing Christ, tall and serene, guiding a boat out of stormy waters into a calm sea.

So inspired was Chiocchetti by his work that, when in 1945 Camp 60 was disbanded and his fellow prisoners sent home, he stayed on for some weeks to finish his work.

The Orcadians were deeply moved by his achievement. "We who are brought up in the Calvinistic faith," wrote the poet George Mackay Brown in the Orkney Herald,

a faith as austere, bracing and cold as the winds that trouble Lamb Holm from year's end to year's end, can hardly grasp the fierce nostalgic endeavour that raised this piece of Italy, of Catholicism, out of the clay and the stones . . . The Italians who fought weakly and

without hope on the battlefield because they lacked faith in the ridiculous strutting little Duce have wrought strongly here . . .

But few imagined that the chapel, battered by wind and weather, could survive for long.

In 1958, however, its fame had grown and its condition deteriorated to such an extent that a preservation committee was formed. Chiocchetti was traced to Moena, where he was working as a painter/ decorator, and in March 1960 was brought back to Lamb Holm, courtesy of the BBC, for three weeks to restore his work. He returned again, with his wife, in 1964, bringing with him as a personal gift to the chapel 14 Stations of the Cross hand-carved in Cirmo wood, and, as a gift from the mayor and community of Moena, a standing crucifix and altar cruets of Venetian glass.

Links have been maintained between the former Italian prisoners of war and the people of Orkney and, when in 1996, at the age of 86, Chiocchetti was granted the freedom of Moena, there were three Orcadians present to witness the event.

Since his visits, the preservation committee, supported by donations from the tens of thousands of people who visit the chapel each year (in 1998 75,000 came - almost four times as many visitors as the entire population of Orkney), has ensured that Chiocchetti's work remains intact. Mass is celebrated in the chapel during the summer months, and on 9 June Bishop Mario Conti will fly to Orkney from Aberdeen to celebrate a memorial service for Domenico Chiocchetti. The service will, perhaps, include a reading from the letter Chiocchetti wrote to the people of Orkney before returning to Moena after restoring his chapel in 1960:

Dear Orcadians - My work at the chapel is finished. In these three weeks I have done my best to give again to the little church that freshness which it had 16 years ago.

The chapel is yours - for you to love and preserve. I take with me to Italy the remembrance of your kindness and wonderful hospitality.

I thank the authorities of Kirkwall, the courteous preservation committee, and all those who directly or indirectly have collaborated for the success of this work and for having given me the joy of seeing again the little chapel of Lamb Holm where I, in leaving, leave a part of my heart . . .

Goodbye dear friends of Orkney - or perhaps I should say just "Au revoir".

Domenico Chiocchetti, painter: born Moena, Italy 15 May 1910; married 1949 Maria Felicetti (one son, two daughters); died Moena 7 May 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week