AFTER a long period of failing health, the death has occurred in his home village of Moena, in the Italian Dolomites, of Domenico Chiocchetti, the

creator of Orkney's world-famous Italian Chapel.

The Italian Chapel is all that remains of ''Camp 60'', on the uninhabited Orkney island of Lambholm, which housed Italian prisoners of war during the latter part of the Second World War. These men, captured in North Africa, were sent to Orkney to work on the Churchill Barriers, built to seal the eastern approaches of Scapa Flow.

The War Office identified the deeply felt need for the prisoners to have a Roman Catholic chapel and Chiocchetti, with his artistic background and assisted by a small band of helpers, stepped forward to realise the ambitious idea of building such a chapel. His imagination took flight but had to be expressed in terms of the simplest materials, mostly second-hand and a proportion being apparently worthless scrap.

The centrepiece of the chapel is the Madonna and Child over the altar, with its symbolism of peace and friendship emerging from war. In it, the infant Jesus carries an olive branch, the symbol of peace. Cherubs surround the Virgin, with one carrying a blue shield, the heraldic badge of Moena, showing a ship sailing from storms into calm weather, and another putting a sword back in its scabbard. The fresco is based on a famous nineteenth-century picture by Nicolo Barabina, a copy of which Chiocchetti had been given by his mother to carry with him all through the war.

The chapel was hardly finished when the war ended and it was therefore in use for only a very short time. Chiocchetti stayed on after his colleagues returned home to add some finishing touches. At the time, Orkney's Lord Lieutenant promised that Orcadians would cherish and preserve the chapel. However, no-one could have foreseen how it would become such a universal symbol of peace emerging from war and ranking with St Magnus Cathedral and Skara Brae as Orkney's most-visited tourist attractions.

Chiocchetti would never have aspired to being a world-famous artist. His greatness lay in the circumstances in which he created the chapel and the spirit with which he did it. It is this that makes any visit to the chapel such a moving experience.

On his only other visit to Orkney in 1960, Chiocchetti returned at the invitation of the newly-formed Italian Chapel Preservation Committee to undertake some essential repairs to the building. At the time, he wrote a letter to the people of Orkney in which he said:

''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 shall remember you always, and my children shall learn from me to love you.

''I thank (you) . . . for having given me the joy of seeing again the little chapel of Lambholm where I, in leaving, leave a part of my heart.''

Thanks to the continued generous donations given by the countless visitors to the building, the committee's work still continues. This would be Chiocchetti's greatest wish and is essential as, being basically two Nissen huts placed end to end, the construction is inevitably fragile when exposed to Orkney's sometimes violent weather.

On a personal level, my wife and I visited Domenico at his home on several occasions since 1984. ''Saintly'' is the only adjective that could do him justice. Even though he was frail and we were complete strangers, the welcome we received was overwhelming and he was so keen to hear all the latest news of Orkney and the chapel. The valley in which he lived, the Val di Fasso/Fiemme, is a community of similar size to Orkney with which it shares the same principal industries of tourism and farming. Like Orkney, the valley has a very distinctive

culture of its own, having a

troubled history because of its geographical location in the Sud Tirol between Italy and Austria. Domenico's warm and peaceful personality was clearly moulded against this background.

I direct a small choir in Orkney, the Mayfield Singers, and had intended taking the choir to Moena in July 2000, as our project for the millennium. The fact that Domenico is no longer with us does not change this objective but, in his memory, makes us all the more determined to realise it.

Domenico leaves his devoted wife Maria and their three children, Laetitia, Fabio, and Angela, all of whom have visited Orkney and wish to maintain the family's strong links with the country to which their father gave so much.

After his family, the chapel remained the dearest thing in Domenico's life. His house in Moena was full of Orcadian mementos. One of his last acts before he passed away was to ask for a picture of the chapel to be put into his hands so that

he could finally kiss the Madonna and Child that he had so

lovingly created.