THIEVES have stolen three hand-carved wooden plaques from the Italian Chapel in Orkney.
The theft from the famous attraction, which was built by Italian prisoners of war during the Second World War, comes as the chapel marks its 70th anniversary.
Fourteen plaques for the Stations of the Cross were gifted by the chapel’s creator, Domenico Chiocchetti and his wife, in 1964 but three have now vanished.
Local councillor Andrew Drever, a member of the Chapel Preservation Committee, said: “Given that this building is freely open to all through a position of trust, it is very disappointing that such an internationally well respected monument has been raided of these artefacts.
“This year we are commemorating the chapel’s 70th anniversary and this action, together with a break-in earlier this year, make it all the more deplorable.
“Our Italian Chapel is above all a symbol of peace and reconciliation. I would appeal to whoever removed the carvings to return them immediately to their rightful place, either in person or anonymously.”
Committee secretary John Muir said: “It is really devastating news. I would not think they have any monetary value, but they are of great sentimental value to the chapel and its history. I would hope no reputable dealer would buy them, but inform the police.
“We have been celebrating the 70th anniversary and it is very disappointing that this is the second event of this sort to happen, following a break-in in May.
“A door was badly damaged then, but that can be replaced, and has been. But this is a different ball game altogether.”
The chapel, which is unlocked during the day, is the biggest tourist attraction in Orkney, drawing more than 100,000 visitors a year.
Detectives were at the chapel yesterday searching for fingerprints. A Police Scotland spokesman said: “We are appealing for information regarding the theft of three wooden plaques from within the Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm, Orkney.
“These formed part of a 14-plaque set that depicted the journey of Christ to the cross and were in open display in the chapel.
“Each plaque is made of mahogany and measures approximately six inches by eight inches with a cross on top. There is an image of Christ carved on each and they are individually numbered by Roman numerals.”
The theft is thought to have taken place some time between 29 July and 12 August.
Detectives would like to hear from anyone who may have taken digital photographs of the chapel interior between those dates, hoping to help to narrow down the timeframe for when the theft occurred.
The theft has upset Inga Semple, scriptwriter for a film currently in the planning stages about a love story that centres around on the Italian Chapel.
Speaking from Orkney, where she is carrying out research for the film, The Melted Heart, she said: “It is really pathetic. The sentimental value makes this all the more horrendous.
“I am Italian and know the history of this very well, so it is all very, very sad.”
This year marks the milestone 70th anniversary of the departure of the Italian prisoners from Orkney.
Around 1,200 prisoners were sent to Orkney during the Second World War.
Most of the Italians who worked on the chapel left on 9 September 1944 to go to a camp in England, just weeks after the building had been completed.
The Italian soldiers were brought to the islands to provide the labour to principally build the Churchill Barriers. The men were divided into two camps.
The chapel, known as the “Miracle of Camp 60”, was built out of two Nissen huts on the island of Lamb Holm.