The Italian POW Church, more properly known as Our Lady of Mercy, is located in Durban Road, and was built by Italian prisoners of war during 1943 and 1944. The men were housed in a POW camp on the site and they church they built has been described as a ‘minor masterpiece of ecclesiastical architecture’.
The Church was consecrated on 19 March 1944 but abandoned after the end of the war when it was used by vagrants until a fire damaged it and destroyed the roof. It was restored in the 1960s with funds provided by the Italian Consulate and, in 1977, became a National Monument when it was donated to the National Monument’s Council by the Pietermaritzburg City Council.
An Italian POW Church Trust was formed to raise funds and to negotiate for the return of the church to the community. This eventually happened when, at a ceremony in 1998, the title deeds were symbolically handed by the Monuments Council to Mr Ciro Vacca, one of the church’s original builders. In 2005, the Italian Government awarded R1,5-million towards restoring the church to its former glory and there are also plans to relocate the Italian Military Cemetery at Hillary, outside Durban, to the site and to build a museum there to commemorate the POWs.