There are still a few reminders of Italy’s former presence In East Africa. It is seen in the Italian architecture throughout Ethiopian cities. A testament to the Duke of Aosta’s successful Infrastructure program. An occasional battlefield souvenir is unearthed, the discarded remnants of warring armies that once fought and died on this scorched land. There is perhaps no greater reminder or tribute to the men of Italy and the sacrifices they made than the Italian Memorial Catholic Church located in Nyeri town in Kenya’s Central Province.
The Memorial Church is not a traditional church. It is a memorial and tomb. It is located between the Aberdare range and Mount Kenya near the River Chania. The quaint brick structure quietly stands amongst a tree-filled compound near the heart of the small city.
Italian Memorial Catholic Church Design
The church was built in 1952 and funded by both the Italian government and Italian nationals residing in Kenya. Inside one finds a splendid marble interior featuring an equally glorious marble alter located at the front center of the church. Rows of simple wooden pews sit in the soft glow of light let in through the many windows located high on the walls.
Along both sides of the chapel are rows of vaults, each containing the remains of an Italian fallen soldier. A committee formed in 1955 gathered all the known remains of Italian soldiers scattered about the graveyards of East Africa and transport them to the Memorial Church. There, they could be interned forever in its hallowed walls.
The Memorial Church holds in the safety of its vaults 676 of these fallen warriors. Near the altar sits a singular tomb, one that contains the remains of Prince Amedeo. Viewing the front of the church from the rear, the Duke lies in the center. His men arranged on his flanks. Writer Rupi Mangat described the arrangement as:
“The very positioning of the soldiers imitates real-life soldiers parade awaiting inspection”.
They will wait loyally on their Prince forever.
East African Vaults
There are several other vaults outside the church. These vaults contain the remains of native Africans, mostly from Somaliland, who fought and died for Italy and the Duke. Their vaults lie outside the church as their Muslim faith dictates.
Perhaps there is no better testament to the respect and loyalty that the Duke of Aosta received from his men than these vaults lining the perimeter of the Church. The men buried here, who never saw or stepped foot in Italy, gave their unflinching loyalty and sacrificed their lives. They did not do it for Benito Mussolini or some country in the Mediterranean. They gave their lives to fight by the side of Amedeo Savoia-Aosta. He had become their Prince as well.
Day after day, and night after night, the Memorial Church stands proudly on the plains of Africa. It serves as a monument to the tens of thousands of Italians who gave all they had for their country. The souls of the men inside its walls are the last rear guard of the once-proud army they served. They stand as sentinels for eternity, watching over an Empire that was not to be.