St Magnus Cathedral known as the Light in the North and founded in 1137 by the Viking, Earl Rognvald, in honour of his uncle St Magnus, dominates Kirkwall on Orkney.
Very soon after the Second World War was declared many Italian Soldiers were captured in North Africa. Over 1000 prisoners were transported to Orkney to assist with the construction of the Churchill Barriers being built to make Scapa Flow, the base for the home fleet more secure, following the sinking of HMS Royal Oak with the loss of over 800 British sailors.
During the time the Italian prisoners were based on the Island of Lamb Holm most were employed in quarries sourcing broken stone or working on the building of the Barriers.
The men were understandably low in spirit but they had a very sympathetic camp commandant, Major Buckland, who provided the men with comforts not normally available to prisoners of war. At request of the camp priest, Father Giacobazzi and with support from the men, two Nissen huts were made available as a chapel.
Domenio Chiocchetti, an artist was given the task of painting a picture of the Madonna of the Olive Branch above the altar and as the basis for this he used a prayer card given to him by his mother before he left home. The central part depicts the Blessed Virgin holding the infant Jesus in her arms is offering his mother an olive branch, the symbol of peace.
Other symbols of peace include an angel holding the heraldic badge of Moena (Chiocchetti’s home town) showing a man rowing his boat out of the storm towards the calm sea. Another angel is sheathing his sword and on the ceiling the white dove of peace. The image of the Blessed Virgin is inscribed ‘Regina pacis ora pro nobis’ (Queen of Peace pray for us).
Many of the prisoners assisted Chioccetti; cement workers, electricians and a blacksmith who crafted the rood iron screen, one of the outstanding features of the building. The unsightly corrugate iron of the Nissen huts was hidden by plasterboard and beautifully painted with the altar, altar rail and holy water stoop moulded in concrete and on either side of the altar two windows of painted glass representing St Francis of Assisi and St Catherine of Sienna.