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Hidden Gem: St. Ann Arts and Cultural Center

Discover a Hidden Gem in Woonsocket that you may have driven by without knowing it existed. Or maybe you have not visited this interesting spot in years. So take a little trip with Patch...we’ll show you the way...

Though seated prominently on Cumberland Street in Woonsocket, a spot many residents drive by every day, St. Ann Arts and Cultural Center is indeed, a hidden gem. Woonsocket's own "Sistine Chapel" is in fact, overlooked by many and a surprising number of native Rhode Islanders are unaware of the beauty that awaits inside.

Stepping inside St. Ann may be as close as any visitor to Woonsocket can get to heaven on earth.

Just about every inch of the 93-year-old church is decorated with intricate frescos, oil paintings and stained glass windows. Built in 1918 and painted in 1940, the former church, which is now an arts and cultural center, claims the largest collection of fresco paintings in the United States. Its artist, a hunchback named Guido Nincheri, plastered and painted the walls by hand for $25,000 in 1940.

Concrete painted columns appear to be fine Italian marble as they stretch 60 feet into the air, supporting the ceiling. The intricate stained glass windows appear three-dimensional. The pastel colored frescos show a deft hand, the physiques of the bodies are physically accurate, highly detailed and Michelangelo-like in their poses.

Nincheri used the parishioners' faces as the faces of the figures in the paintings, making the building into a massive scrapbook of the French-Canadian mill workers that collected and donated nickels and dimes to build and decorate their beloved Catholic church. 

In 2000, the Diocese of Providence could no longer afford the maintenance costs to keep the church active. Afraid that the church may be destroyed, the St. Ann Arts and Cultural Center was formed. The concerned individuals that made up the Center leased the building until 2007, when the Diocese turned ownership of the building over to the nonprofit group. Today, the church is open on Sundays from 1 - 4 p.m. for guided tours. St. Ann's was named an Editor's Choice: Best of New England by Yankee Magazine in 2011. Run as a nonprofit organization, the center can also be rented for events (including weddings,) and holds many local fundraisers and celebrations.

English first July 25, 2011 at 07:09 PM
This was the best article (video) that the Woonsocket Patch has done. I loved it. I hope other buildings are showcased like this.
Marcus July 26, 2011 at 03:52 AM
Wow This is a Great Article. The people at St Ann Arts and Cultural Center have done so much. Thank god for these dedicated people. Without them this would have been another abandoned building and our history would have bee lost forever. "Thank You" St Ann Arts and Cultural Center for Saving the history of our ancestors. I am Very Proud to know that this wonderful building exist in not only Woonsocket , But in Rhode Island and New England. We all should be very proud of what we have in our own back yards.
Jim July 26, 2011 at 04:12 AM
I recently visited this amazing building and I was completely stunned! I have lived in many cities across the country and this is hands down one of the most magnificent buildings in the country. Congratulations to the small group of volunteers that are working so hard to keep that building alive in the community. Which brings me to a couple of questions: Why are more people not involved with this organization? and why is there not a big push of support not only from the city officials but from the community as well? If this building was located in one of the cities that I lived in, you can bet that the entire town would take advantage of it by supporting it and utilizing it as a tourist attraction. It is unique. It is uniqueness that helps with tourism. Tourism is one of the keys to any financially successful community. Because of my job, I never know how long I will be residing in any town but while I am here I think I will see if I can offer any assistance in helping this great organization.
Marcus July 26, 2011 at 04:49 AM
Can Someone tell me why there is nothing on the Woonsocket web site about this Building and History. I am shocked that there is nothing on the Woonsocket web site. After reading this Article I looked up the city web site and nothing. I am puzzled with this city. These people are trying to save a piece of history for the City of Woonsocket.
Marcus July 26, 2011 at 04:51 AM
http://www.ci.woonsocket.ri.us/
English first July 26, 2011 at 12:20 PM
Marcus. The above link that you put in is correct. If you go to the city's website follow on the leftof the page to the word "Links" and St. Ann's Art and Cultural Center will come up. However, that link is INCORRECT. The real link is http://stannartsctr.org/default.aspx We shouldn't have to search so hard on our city's website to find it. Good luck.
CB11 July 26, 2011 at 02:04 PM
This was our church when I was little. I compare every church I walk into to St.Ann's and none come close to the beauty of this one! I remember being totally mesmerized by the mural on the ceiling - with Jesus and the Choir Angels on the top half and the fallen angels, with their evil looks and devil horns on the bottom, looking like they were trying to get back into Heaven. That one painting made such an impression on me! I'm so glad good people were able to save all the wonderful art and history this church holds. God Bless you all!
Nancy July 26, 2011 at 04:08 PM
I can not believe that the City of Woonsocket website does not put this building as a place of interest, Under Museum, Arts, or even make a new category Attractions. Buildings and organization such as this should be showcased. Places like Woonsocket would get more tourism and maybe even more people interested in buying businesses or homes in the area. I have attended a Tour at St Ann's with a large group of people and I can tell you these people work very hard to save this building and the history. Some of the volunteers are not even from Woonsocket and they referred our group to local Woonsocket restaurants, Museum of work and Culture, The Stadium Theater, Depot Square and the list went on. My family and I have recommend to our friends to visit Woonsocket. Woonsocket Please fix your website and Invite more people to visit your great City. Thank You Patch for this great Article. I am glad to have found such a great site.
Wally Rathbun July 27, 2011 at 01:05 AM
This is a wonderful article. "Thank You" Patch for the exposure and many thanks to Andrew Metcalf for capturing the beauty of this humble organization. Words can not express my gratitude.
Rene M. Lafayette July 29, 2011 at 11:53 AM
Outstanding effort and results on the part of the Patch as well as the volunteers who tend to this symbol of faith for generations of Woonsocket residents. St. Ann's was my mother's family's parish. This is where my parents were married in 1941. Woonsocket trivia: this is the church where, after World War I, Marshal Foch, France's military leader, attended a "Te Deum" service of thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the rectory could not be preserved as well - that would have kept the complex complete. In any event, thanks again to all for an outstanding video and article. Now, the real question: who posed for Eve and is she still alive? ;)
Jean Riendeau August 01, 2011 at 01:57 AM
The video was well done - bravo! Comparing St. Ann's Church to the Sistene Chapel provides a critical perspective that clearly show's St. Ann's Church as a modern day treasure. Jean Riendeau South Kingstown
Judith Beauchemin August 01, 2011 at 12:24 PM
I think that the people of Woonsocket are very lucky to have such an amazing place to go and see.St. Ann's was where we took our children to on Sunday mass and then off to CCD.I too cannot even think of another Church that is so beautiful as this one is.The memories will always be there for me.Thank you for letting me see this video,the best ever.Don't stop letting the people know of this beautiful Art that is there for them to see. The credit does go to all the volunteers who have been there for St. Ann's Art and Cultural Center.May the good lord keep you going for all of us to have such a tremendous place to go to. Thank You Wally and Dominique Great Job. love you and God Bless
Linda Fletcher August 01, 2011 at 10:52 PM
I just visited this Building for a wedding this weekend from Delaware with several friends. I went to the city of woonsocket website for information of St Ann Arts and Cultural Center and they have the wrong website and very little information on this wonderful building and the organization that supports it. I can not believe that the city of Woonsocket are so foolish in this economy to not encourage tourism. I found the city of Woonsocket very interesting and the history amazing. Please encourage your city to update their website and encourage tourism. here is your webmaster address. webmaster@woonsocketri.org ( I have had no luck with it and correspondence from your city is None to date)
Memere August 02, 2011 at 01:46 AM
I used to go to Mass at St. Anne's when I was a little girl and I always was fascinated by all the beautiful paintings. My grandparents were married at St. Anne's. It is an absolutely gorgeous building. I wish it would have been possible to keep it as a church. Another beautiful former church was Our Lady of Victories on Prospect St. I loved that church also.
John Mathews August 02, 2011 at 02:58 AM
Memere St Ann Arts and Cultural Center has Services on Sundays they allow Firm Foundation Christian Church utilize space. http://firmfoundationri.com/ Our Lady of Victories have Sunday Services as well. The Providence Diocese Rents the Building to Calvary Worship Center . http://www.cwcri.com/ Thank God for these groups and orginations that are providing support to keep these two Building going. I am still very upset that the Diocese has walked away from these building. Everyone was told that the two churches were closed for dwindling numbers of parishioners and financial problems. And yet small groups are still keeping them and the holy spirit alive today. These beautiful building may have been left behind by some.But they are both very alive with the Great spirit that live on from the communities that built them.
John Mathews August 02, 2011 at 03:02 AM
http://woonsocket.patch.com/articles/firm-foundation-christian-church-brings-worship-back-to-social-district Here is a great article from patch http://woonsocket.patch.com/listings/calvary-worship-center
robert rondeau August 02, 2011 at 05:23 PM
Bob Rondeau... This video brings back a lot of memories to me. Not only did I attend church there with my parents but I was also an altar boy in this great place. My fondest memories was attending Midnight Mass all those years and listening to the great choir singing " Menuit Chretien". I have goose bumps just thinking about it. For all those who support this great edefice......keep up the good work.
Jim August 09, 2011 at 01:51 AM
Its hard to believe but there is still no link to the St. Ann Arts and Cultural Center on the City's website. Is it that difficult? Linda Fletcher, above, sent messages to the city and the webmaster and there is still nothing on the website. I am finding this quite mind boggling! No other city in the world would waste this tourism opportunity.

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