Church built by Italian prisoners of war interned in Kenya during second world war.


DSC_2372 Italian prisoners of war were interned in the Rift Valley in Kenya during the second world war. They were  made to build a road in this treacherous environment. Colonials were  compassionate and allowed prisoners of war to build a catholic church. This church has survived the test of times, seen the colonials leave, changes of regimes in Kenya. After the war, Italian prisoners were repatriated to Italy. Some stayed behind and built their own businesses and farming. People of all faiths call at this little church to pay homage to the prisoners who built the magnificent road in the Rift Valley.

This church stands on the highway that links Nairobi to Nakuru.  This photo on left is the first view of the church from the road – Flight of steps lead up to the church.

The inside walls are covered with Latin words scrawled on the upper end of the walls and reads, Venite Ad Memone (Come to me my people), Haec Est Victoria Quae Vincit Mundum Fides Mustra (This is the victory that has won the world by our faith), Benedicite Coeli Domino Benedicite (Blessed be the sky and blessed again) and finally Universa Germinatia In Terra Domino, which translates to, everything will germinate in the sky and also on the earth.( Source EA Standard)

The picture behind the altar is of baby Jesus and his parents Mary and Joseph surrounded by the angels drawn in early 1943 by Navitatis NDJC. The drawing symbolises the victory achieved by the religion across the world. This is just part of many other

Latin words and symbols that decorate inside and around the church.

Click on the Photos on this page to enlarge,  view and experience the full glory of this wonderful church in the Rift Valley – Kenya.

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To See full church Photos –  Click on    View Gallery   

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60 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I am writting a dissertation on Italian POWs and trying to find any information on the Chapel built by Italian POWs near Nairobi in Kenya, i would be very grateful for any information on this chapel,
    many thanks,

    • This church was built by Italian POWs when they were building the road between 1942 and 1944.

      On the wall behind the altar, instead of the usual Crucifix, there is a scene of the Nativity of Christ. In the lower left-hand corner, there is a signature: “R.Pittore 25.02.1943” (probably the artist who painted the picture).

      Hope this helps,
      M. Cassini

      • Hi, I’m doing some researching on the church, as my father was one of prisoners who built it, and wondered where I could find more details?

        Thanks for your help.

        Andy

  2. Please contact me offline, as my parents were married in this Church. Kind regards. Valeria

    • Hallo Valeria i visited this beautiful little church last year with some friends loved it so much that im hoping to get married there later this year and was wondering how your parents went about getting married there as we did not see sign of anybody there whom we could find out anything from and what about accommodation with somewhere we could hold the reception any suggestions welcome

      Kind regards June

      • My father who married there over 50 years but still lives in Kenya says:

        I think the Italian Embassy is still in charge.

        The Consolata church in Westlands (near Nairobi) can officiate in marriages.

  3. Hi there… i dont have any info on the church, but i just prayed in there today. Im of italian descent, living in australia, and on holidays in kenya (9.4.2010). My grandfather was a prisoner of war, and he has told me he has been to africa, so i will have a chat to him when i see him next, to ask if he knows anything about this beautiful church. keep in touch!

    Jason

  4. I had a chance to see this church in Kenya last year. My father was an Italian POW in Africa, but I’m not sure exactly where. This church gave me a small feeling of hope for mankind. It’s good to see after all these years it is still in great shape.

  5. Very nice vidps3atxvipx

  6. yes,the church has been there and its nice to be there,i do lots of traveling in kenya,i always take visitors to that church

    • Hi Kennedy any suggestion as to how we could get hold of the people incharge of that church i.e to arrange a wedding and any suggestions on great places to hold the reception?
      Kind regards June

      • Hi June, its my hope that you are fine. Well; if you haven’t got the assistance that you required over the POW’s Church near Mai Mahiu, then you can contact me – i could see how to coordinate with the relevant authorities in Kenya for your wedding or a visit again. I am a Kenyan and my names are Cyrus Gachanja. My email address is: kenyaecosafaris@gmail.com and my number is: + 254 (0) 721 955202.
        Well, i can assist you in transport or organizing other related issues in line with your aspirations. Thank you, Cyrus.

  7. I was born n Kenya and the little church brings back dear memories of my childhood there.
    My father, Dino Carlo Benaglia, was one of the POW’s who built the little church and I can remember him stopping there every time we travelled to/from his farms and Nairobi.
    Been trying to put together whatever information is available on their POW years and the church.

    • My mother is half Italian, half Kenyan. THe Italian was a POW and posted to Kabarnet in the 1940’s. Looking for more information on this, and where those POWs were takne, and tehir names.

    • Today I was informed that my fraternal Grandfather was an Italian POW in Kenya and my grandmother, an Englisg nurse, in Kenya. She became pregnant and had my father who was adopted by my adopted grandparents who then went to live in Uganda – they never talked about his natural parents and destroyed the birth certificate. They have died many years ago, and now we would dearly love to find out more about my father’s parents. Would you have any ideas where to start? many thanks. Helen Wills

  8. Someone has told me that there is a list of names of the prisoners that contributed to the construction of the church. Is this true? My grandfather was a war prisoner in Kenya during the war between 1938-1945. I know very little about his 7 years experience in Africa, all i know he was moved around between Kenya, Abissinia, Etiopia. Any information would be welcome.

    • Please let me know more if you get more information. My grandfather too was a POW in KEnya in Kabarnet

    • Same as my father! He was living in AddisAbeba since 1936 and was captured in Gimma on April 1941, sent to two different camps in Kenya and then in 1943 to Zonderwater South Africa
      till 1947. My mother with 9 months baby was also captured in Gimma later and sent to Diredaua Camp for two years. I am presently reconstructing memories with thousands letters and photos and also names of prison companions, etc. Recently I discovered on fb ZONDERWATER Association doing a lot in this respect. Regards. Emy

  9. The church looks very peaceful and inspiring. World War II between 1939 and 1945 has been an important part of our history. While in England I had participated in sending veterans badges to the survivors of WWII in the UK, to mark the 60th Anniversary. After receiving the badges the joy these people expressed and the pride they had was commendable.

  10. I have a beautiful photograph of the mural behind the alter and would be happy to send it to anyone who would like a copy

    • Thank you for sending me the mural – It will be included in the photos.

    • Hi can you send me a copy too as my father also build this church!
      luiphy@gmail.com
      Thanks
      Luigi

      • Hi Luigi, the little church seems to pull the old families together.
        I’m sending you an email with details of where you can find some ver updated information on the church and who is looking after it at the moment.

        Andy

    • jambo

      i’d love a chance to see a copy of the mural

      thank you
      jeannie x

      • It is in the photos

    • yes please, my parents were married there in 1956. Thank you

  11. Just found out there were Italian Prisoners of War in India. Does anyone know where they were stationed.
    Italian POWs in India, 1944
    One of the most intriguing organized units involved in road building [in India] was the Italian Auxiliary Pioneer Corps. This was raised from so-called Italian ‘co-operators’. During 8th Army’s campaigns against the Italians in 1941 and 1942, thousands of Italians had been brought to POW camps in India as they could not be taken to Britain. At first, the Italians were something of a nuisance in a jocular sort of way. They were adept at spreading anti-Allied propaganda to the Indian population – for example on the backs of cigarette packs with one or two cigarettes left in them. British military intelligence was particularly struck by one jape. The POWs had fabricated an Italian fascist flag from old clothes. They captured a vulture which flew into their compound and tied the flag to it. The unfortunate bird was seen flapping around the surrounding villages for hours displaying the insignia of Mussolini’s new Roman Empire. After the fall of the dictator and the German invasion of Italy, however, many Italian soldiers who were not committed fascists agreed to work on the Allied side. The valleys of Assam were alive with the sounds of the songs of Sorrento.
    SOURCE: Forgotten Armies: Britain’s Asian Empire & the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper (Penguin, 2004), p. 426

  12. Hi There.

    My fiance who is from kenya has seen this church many years ago and we have a plan/idea to get married there sometime this year however she cannot remember the exact location or name of the lovely chapel.

    Are you able to send me the location details and name of the chapel or any contact information etc for the people who maintain/run the chapel?

    Any information would be greatly appreciated.

    Regards,
    Michael Patrick.

    • The church is at situation on Road through the rift valley going towards Naivasha/Nakuru.
      I will find out details of people who maintain the church.

    • Hi Patrick, i feel happy that you appreciate the church built by the POW’s in 1942. Well; i could see how to organize with the relevant authorities in Kenya for your wedding or a visit again. I am Cyrus and of Kenyan nationality. My email address is: kenyaecosafaris@gmail.com and my number is: + 254 (0) 721 955202.
      I welcome you with open arms and will assist you in transport and other logistics to make everything perfect for you or your friends. Thank you, Cyrus.

  13. Hi,

    My grandmother, Anne Coyle was a nurse in Kenya during WWll and I am trying to find out more information about her time there. She was an Irish woman who trained as a nurse in London and was a member of the Queen Alexandria Nursing Corps during the war. We have a painting of her at home by an Italian POW. Although it is hard to make out his name it appears to be M Marigony. I would be most grateful if anyone had any information on where I might find records of Italian POWs and/or medical personel who were stationed there.
    Thank you
    Kathryn

  14. Hi I done my national service in the time the Mau Mau.
    Spent a lot of time up the Rift Valley and passed the Church meny times.But regret never stopped to have look. It was some time 1956 that i went down that road for last time.
    Have a photo of the Church if like Regards Arch.
    If go to Google free download Picasa 3.Iwell send photo of my time in Kenya.

  15. I am Kenyan and was born a few kilometers away from the church,our people have always respected the shrine and the people who built it. The road next to the church built by POWS lasted many years than any other road built in Kenya, the church is maintained by the Italian embassy in Kenya. MYTH 1 there is a clock which ticks and never seen. Myth 2 the Italians hid their rings, jewels and wills in the church concrete columns. myth 3 All Pows were drowned in the sea by the British these has angered Africans to date

    • Paul Ngugi,
      Jambo Bwana
      Thank you for your comments – the myths that you mentioned are very interesting. I am sure these must have grown around the church. I had never heard of these but than I did not live around the church area. Thank you for also letting us know that the church is looked after by Italian Embassy in Kenya. When I took these photos in 2008 December, the church was in pristine condition. Do regular services take place at the church?
      Best wishes and regards

      • Im a Kenyan, legend has it that the POW who constructed the church left trivia and clues, one some of their hidden treasure,diaries adn letters on the structures of the building and in fact there is this old Kenyan guy who served during the war told me of inscription of something like Benedikite Coli Domin Benedikite which he said translated to something about the sky but in reality it was a clue of secret hidden on the roofs am not sure coz I have never been to the place. again there is something about ‘growing in the sky will grow on earth’ which he said meant that ”more of what was on the roof are hidden in the ground”
        I understand of compasses on the roof that suggest the rotation of the earth will keep the building which he said meant if the structure of the building was turned to opposite direction it would point to something I cant remember what. Any way I have never proved any of this and am not sure how true any of it is Coz I havent seen the old guy again nor I had known him before, the conversation came up when some guy talked about treasure hunting adventure and he volunteered to give him a site. farewell

    • My sister has just returned from Kenya and visited the church a couple of weeks ago. It is being completely restored to it’s original state and a protection wall is being built all around it.
      Myth 2, my dad was one of the 11 POW’s who built the little church and I can remember that he told us that he had hidden something in the church. Don’t know anything else about this but would be curious to know if it’s true.
      Andy

      • Dear Friend

        I am based in KEnya. My grandfather was one fo the Italian POWs sent to Kabarnet. He probably was one of teh 11 POWs that build the church at Maai Mahiu. Any infomration will be apreciated. Dr. Ali

      • Yes Andy It is true the people that build that church hid a bottle with the names of the builders iin it. This my father told me and showed me where it is, when I was a young boy in Kenya. I will be going to EA next year and will contact the Kenyian authorities so we can get this bottle out and the names put as a monumen there. My fathers name was Leandro Pucci
        Luigi

  16. Jambo.
    I was a british soldier and served in Kenya 1960-63 and was stationed at Gil-Gil near Nakuri in the highlands.I visited this beautful church many times on my way to and from Nirobi. On the way we first stoped at Naivnasha to see the flamingos.We always stopped off at the Church to pray. I wa serving with the Inniskilling Fusiliers at the time and felt it a privilious to serve in that beautful country,Kenya.

    • jambo to you…..lol
      i was a little 7 yr old when we arrived at gilgil……
      we(my mammy,sister and brother)had been living with our auntie kitty just outside of kilkenny city,eire whilst waiting for married quarters,,,,
      when we finally arrived….shortly after….,there was a moralboosting concert for the families…
      we sat with great anticipation…
      who comes on? only ruby murray singing 40 shades of green. . .
      jaaaaaysus ! we were puddles of tears on the floor….

      lol
      the draw and affection i still have for africa is sooo strong..

      by this stage . . i know it will be with me forever.
      what a lucky brat i am…
      in the 50’s we lived in the gold coast..
      my first playmate was an orphaned chimpanzee mum was fostering…
      bloody amazing

      lol
      i have rambled long enough
      thanks for sharing 🙂

  17. Hiya June,

    I was in the little shrine yesterday and some construction is currently ongoing.We got a project ongoing in the Olkaria and can try get more information for you.Regarding a reception area, there is a wide selection of lodges/hotels in the lake road, and bet that would be ideal.Incase your stuck,do not hesitate in contacting me via email: sachellez13@yahoo.com

  18. I was overwhelmed when I read the above messages.I drove down to Naivasha with a childhood friend and we visited this chapen together. There was a sense of belonging there. I could just sit & hear nosie even in the silence. It’s a beautiful church & is getting reinforced this year by a wonderful lady Christine Miller, who I had the honor of meeting whilst I was in the church. Anybody interested in knowing more details on this beautiful church, kindly contact me at junerfrancis@gmail.com…god bless your faith.

  19. Jambo watu zote,
    I was born in Kenya and my father ran an Italian POW camp during the war. Most prisoners there were anti-Fascist and there was not much security with “prisoners” free to wander off in to the adjoining forests to fish and even hunt. Many chose to work on adjoining farms. At War’s end many did everything to avoid repatriation to Italy and its poverty of that time and many chose to return to Kenya when they could. I know this because my father, who spoke Italian, kept in touch with many Italians after the war and many ex-prisoners were regular visitors. Karam’s third hand comment of “They were not only made to build a road in this treacherous environment” is a bit rich given that the high altitude Equatorial climate of Kenya is one of the pleasantest and healthiest in the world. I can assure Karam that British POW’s in Italy during WW2 did not have it anything like as easy as their Italian counterparts in Kenya and elsewhere. Good pictures though!

    • Hi Bernard, My father always talked about the period he was a POW and also about all that was going on. He always praised the way he was treated by the British.
      After finishing the church my dad actually went to work as a mechanic in a farm in Koru, which was owned by one of the top brass in the British Army. Ended up becoming farm manager and on independence gave up his Italian passport and became a Kenya Citizen.
      I’m trying to find out the name of the farm owner as the Koru coffee farm brings back wonderful moments of my first years.

    • My father was an army captain in the Royal Pioneer Corps during WW2. He has been dead over fifty years now but used to tell me stories of his time helping run a camp for Italian POW’s in Kenya.

      I believe it may have been at Naivasha. His name was “Bill James”.
      I dont believe he ever fired a shot in anger during WW2. Spent most of the war in Kenya and had to learn Swahili.

      Charles James 01243-264687

  20. Thanks for your comments – I am glad that you liked the photos. As regards, trecherous enviornment, notwithstanding that the climate is pleasent and healthy – Nevertheless, it was not shangri la for the Italian prisoners of war in the rift valley. An impassible jungle at the time, tribesmen and wild animals. We do not know of the working conditions but it would be less onerous then being in German concentration camps.
    Incidently, my father was in British army in charge of guarding the Italian prisoners of war at rift valley. The prisoners were great craftsmen and traded their handicrafts with gaurds for food, cigrettes and alchol. We have a collection of these handicrafts at home.

  21. Andy Benaglia, my father did know a coffee planter at Koru but he is long gone and I have no idea of names. Karamvisuals, the Italian POW’s were indeed great craftsmen. Herewith an extract from our family autobiography “My father admired the way the Italian POW’s could improvise creating hand and machine tools from scrap materials and producing all manner of artefacts, furniture and toys whilst turning their hands to repairing vehicles and agricultural machinery in spite of all the wartime shortages and restrictions. Italian prisoners made a lovely pedal-car for us children of scrap metal and as I type I can see a beautifully made wooden cigarette barrel turned on a POW homemade lathe.” The camps where my father was stationed were at Gil Gil then Naro Moru. I have some idea that the men who built the escarpment road were housed at Nyeri, but I could be wrong. I have not seen the little church for many years, but am delighted to hear that it is still being looked after as it should. On trips between Eldoret and Nairobi with my father we never failed to stop for a while at the church. It is good to hear from you both!

  22. Karam, is there any way of finding out if indeed there is a list of the 11 POW’s who built the chapel???? Maybe through the Italian Embassy in Nairobi??

  23. As far as I know, the men who built the church and road were in the camp in the Kijabe area at the top of the escarpment at the edge of a forest – the camp is now run by the Ministry of Works as a depot for their road equipment. The church was built at the bottom of the escarpment on completion of the road. I imagine that men could have been brought from camps further away in that direction.

  24. I have asked one of my contacts to call personally at the Italian Embassy in Nairobi to find out list of POWs.
    @Charles James – there was big army camp at Khava nr Thika and I am not aware of one nr Naivaisha. Have you got any old photos of him or when he visited this church?

  25. To all the members who are in this site and my have Information about the italian POW’s on Kenya, I am trying to put this together as I have a lot of info so any futher info would help a lot::: and if you have some old pics!!!
    My E-mail is luiphy@gmail.com
    I will send the pdf files to you when it is completed and you can add on if you want to, this is a part of our history!!
    Regards
    Luigi

  26. I am doing some research on a book that is soon to be published. I asked the author about the little church because I wanted to know its name. He explained, a bit of its history. “Bishop John McCarthy learned of the appalling treatment of the Italian prisoners of war in Kenya and was ‘incensed’. The Bishop made an appointment to speak with the Governor General of Kenya. He explained, “Bishop McCarthy was an imposing figure and John McCarthy outlined how the English were to treat the Italian captives. In his outline he told the Governor that they will be allowed to build a place of worship and that was why the church was built. Can someone tell me its name?It is beautiful.
    .

  27. My grandfather, Eugenio Stefanuto, was working in either Kenya or Addis Abeba (not sure which) because of hardship in Italy. When WW2 broke he was captured by the British, even though he was not part of the Italian army. He remained a POW until 1947 when he returned to Italy. Can anyone recommend any links to other websites regarding this topic as I’m finding it difficult to get any information at all.

  28. Does Anyone have any photos of the inside of this church that they would like to send to me as i am the son of one of the builders of it and i would like to find out more, there is a lot of latin writings and paintings inside, all is welcomed. <my e-mail is luiphy@gmail.com
    Thanks and Merry Xmas to you all.

    • Look at my photos of the church – there are several taken inside.
      I wrote to you several times on your gmail address and you have not responded.
      Karam

  29. Hi, my father was a junior officer apparently put in charge of one of what I believe were many POW camps in the area. The road was mentioned when I was a child but my brother has just told me that he thinks the POWs from the camp built it, and that they also built a chapel, which was how I found this site. Does anyone know which camp the men came from, or were there several involved?
    Dad told me that some of the Italians had been away from home for 9 years.
    Judy Olsen

  30. I am doing research on FELICE BENUZZI who escaped from Camp 354 at Nanyuki climbed Mt Kenya with two others then broke back in and surrendered to the Commandant. He wrote No Picnic on Mt Kenya. Does anyone have information on his time in Kenya?

  31. Thanks Karan, for pointing me to this site. i do remember this dainty little Church very well. One Sunday evening in the early 60’s, I ended up spending a night in it on the way back to Nairobi after climbing Longonot and going round the crater. More often than not, we would hitch a lift but not on this Sunday. Missed school on Monday and Form master Mr Charan Singh punished us for ‘galavanting’ around the Rift Valley and missing classes. Parents none to impressed either but I grew up rather quickly!

  32. […] in there or how it looks like. Situated along the Mai Mahiu road on your way to Naivasha, lies the smallest church in Kenya as history says. With just four pews and an altar with a small a pulpit, the church was built by […]

  33. Please visit us…..
    We have a LIST OF FARMERS, HORSES EXHIBITORS, SCHOOL EXHIBITORS, EXHIBITORS PIGS, SHEEP EXHIBITORS, CATTLE EXHIBITORS….. from the Official Catalogue of the Royal Show 1956
    http://www.friendsofmombasa.com/british-empire-in-east-africa/
    Church built by Italian prisoners of war
    Invasion of Italian East Africa
    19 Jan 1941 – 16 May 1941
    http://www.friendsofmombasa.com/kenya-tourism/kenya-historic-tourism/


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