Full-time custodians are to be appointed at the world-famous Italian Chapel in Orkney in an effort to safeguard the unique structure, which has suffered vandalism and break-ins including the loss of three hand-carved wooden plaques.
Visitors will also be charged an admission fee for the first time, which curators say is needed to help cover the costs of employing staff next year.
We have seen unprecedented numbers of people visiting
The ornate Roman Catholic chapel on the uninhabited island of Lamb Holm, constructed from two Nissen huts, was built by Italian prisoners of war in 1943 and is one of Orkney’s top visitor attractions.
The interior, including the altar, was built from plasterboard and scrap metal, and frescos adorn the paintwork.
However, CCTV cameras had to be installed last year as a security measure.
Gary Gibson, chairman of the Italian Chapel preservation committee, said the decision to impose charges had not been taken lightly but was necessary to protect “the future of a building which stands as a powerful symbol of peace and devotion from a time of global conflict”.
“Over the past year in particular, we have seen unprecedented numbers of people visiting the chapel, and the preservation committee is deeply concerned over the impact this is having on the delicate fabric of the building.
“Maintaining and restoring the internal decoration of the chapel has been an ongoing process, but the deterioration is now visibly accelerating because of the large volume of people entering the building at the same time.” Gibson said: “In addition to the adverse effects of humidity, we are also seeing more damage caused by people rubbing against the painted walls.
“It is therefore vital we try and control throughput at the chapel and avoid overcrowding within what is a very small and fragile space.”
He said the chapel did not receive funding to assist with its upkeep, but relied instead on donations by visitors.
“Whilst the donations made by visitors are very welcome indeed, the only way we can afford to pay for full-time custodians is by introducing a modest admission charge.”
Gibson added: “It will not be a great amount and it is certainly not the intention of the committee to try and make any profit from the fee.
“We hope people will understand why we are bringing in these measures.”
The hand-carved Stations of the Cross, stolen in August 2014, had been gifted by Domenico Chiocchetti, the chapel’s creator, in 1964. They were never recovered but his daughter has since supervised the production of replacements.