Agora Grand Event Center owner Billie-Jayne Cooke is dwarfed by the roughly 15- by 10-foot painting by Harry Cochrane of a copy of Murillo’s Immaculate Conception. According to Cooke, it has hung in the chapel of what was formerly St. Patrick’s Church in Lewiston since at least 1910. It is not known when it was actually painted but was restored at some point by Paul Gruenewald of Topsham and most likely restored in 1960 or 1985 during one of the churches “revampings.” Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The Inn at the Agora is making changes.

Billie-Jayne Cooke and her husband, Wess, bought the inn, event center and former church next to Kennedy Park in Lewiston a year ago.

She said they’ve decided to remove the pews from the small chapel and replace them with chairs to give the space more flexibility. They’re selling the pews to fund the new seating.

“So far I’ve got rid of 10 — they were rehomed to a wedding that’s happening next month then being gifted to family members in the wedding, which I thought was kind of cool,” she said. “The reality is I have this beautiful space over there that could be rented out for all of the phone calls I get for baby showers, bridal showers and family parties (but) I don’t currently have a way to do that because I just have pews. If I had an open space, then I have a smaller venue than our grand reception hall that’s also more affordable and it’s perfect for business meetings and even small weddings.”

They hope to have initial work done and offer the space out next month. The full project, which includes details like new lighting, will be finished by the spring.

As part of the changes, Cooke said they’re trying to decide what’s to become of a roughly 10- by 15-foot historic painting by Harry Cochrane, a Monmouth artist commissioned for lots of local mural work about 100 years ago. Cooke said the piece is his interpretation of Bartolome Esteban Murillo’s famous painting, “The Immaculate Conception.”

“We’d love to find a home for (it),” she said. “It’s sitting behind a curtain in my chapel. I see no need to dispose of it, I know there’s a home where it can be loved, but it’s so large, it’s hard to find someone that will even touch it.”

This story was originally published Aug. 14 in “The Buzz: New frozen custard stand for a Turner dairy and what do to with a giant, historic painting?“. Have a Buzzable tip? Contact staff writer Kathryn Skelton at 207-689-2844 or

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