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St. Ann's Church

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1914, Walter F. Fontaine. 98 Cumberland St. (at Locust St.)

This is the parish church for the neighborhood known in the early twentieth century as “the Coin” because its French Canadian population was centered on the corner of Cumberland, Social, and Rathbun streets. The area, which now resembles a suburban mall of parking lots dotted by office and commercial buildings, is also the obliterated site of Social Village, one of the constituent villages of Woonsocket. By the late nineteenth century, the Social Flatlands, as it was called, had become the commercial center of the French Canadian neighborhood. The widening of Cumberland Street from two moving lanes to four, with demolition along the route, has seriously undermined the sense of the old neighborhood, into which St. Ann's was tightly fitted, its twin towers with cupolas marking the spot within the city. The conspicuous towers also bear witness to the size and wealth of the French Canadian community in Woonsocket. The architect of St. Ann's was responsible for many of the important buildings in the city during the early twentieth century.

Unlike earlier prominent Roman Catholic churches in Woonsocket which display variants of the Gothic Revival, St. Ann's exemplifies the turn for precedent to the towered brick churches of late medieval and early Renaissance Italy, which became popular for Rhode Island Roman Catholic churches during the first decades of the twentieth century. Over medieval massing appears classical detail. The cream-colored stone trim of the Ionic-columned entrance porch and the Tuscancolumned embellishment of the bell towers only slightly relieve the looming expanse of yellow-beige brick walls. As with other Roman Catholic churches in Woonsocket, however, it is the interior that most claims attention. The first impression, of ballooning space, is derived from the deeply compartmented, barrel-vaulted nave, which culminates in a domed crossing surrounded by semidomes for apse and transepts—all extended in their spatial impact by tall, broadly arcaded aisles. Then, color. The tawny colors of the marbleized columns and pilasters capped with gilded Corinthian capitals were enhanced over time by French stained glass windows, designed by Charles Lorin of Chartres (installed in 1925). Later still, between 1941 and 1953, Guido Nincheri of Montreal filled the compartments of the barrel-vaulted ceiling with murals. The sacristy also contains a very large arched stained glass window (in shape, size, and, no doubt, intent reminiscent of Raphael's frescoes in the Stanze) which contains life-size, full-length portraits of a priest, curates, and altar boys made in the 1970s to honor a beloved pastor on his retirement from the church. This subject in this medium and at this scale seems to be unique in Rhode Island religious architecture.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "St. Ann's Church", [Woonsocket, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 223-223.

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