Painted Churches of Texas
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Painted Churches of Texas
The Painted Churches of Texas are a sight to be seen. Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.
Painted Churches of Texas History
In the mid 1800’s, hundreds of German and Czech immigrants left Europe due to poverty in search of a new dream and landed in Central Texas. These communities embraced America and the promise of their new future, while still preserving their traditional values, culture, food and faith of their homelands. Each community of ~600 families came together to build their community church – purchasing the statues and donating them to the churches. They decorated the interiors with colors and symbols to remind them of their homelands.
Fifteen of these churches survive today and are on the National Register of Historic Places. You can visit many of them during Sunday service and four of them, near the town of Schulenburg, are accessible during the week on guided or self-guided Painted Churches of Texas tour.
Where is Schulenburg?
Schulenburg is a small town off the I-10 freeway just about mid-point between Houston and San Antonio. The town is accessible for daytrips from both Houston, San Antonio and Austin via a 1.5 hour drive.
Ammansville: St. John the Baptist Church
Google Address: 7850 Mensik Rd, La Grange, TX 78945
If you are heading down from Austin, this will be the first church you encounter. The town of Ammansville was once a bustling town with with three cotton gins, a general store, school, blacksmith, doctor’s office, pharmacy and saloon.
This is the third church on this site. The original, built in 1909 was destroyed by a storm, the next built in 1917 was destroyed by a fire. This third version, built in 1919, shows the tenacity of the community to have a community center. This church has a beautiful dusty rose interior. The congregation is both German and Czech so there is blend of styles. The Germans added decorative elements from floor to ceiling. However the windows are clear with only stained glass at the top – Czech prefer clear glass to let the light in.
As you look at the pews, you will notice little clips on all the pews on the right side, which were for the men’s hats. All the men sat on the right, the woman on the left. But if you think about it from the priests perspective, the woman are right. God knows something right?
This is the scene across the street and you can see how these churches were the central meeting point of the farm communities.
Dubina: Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church
Location: 4148 FM 1383, Dubina or Saint Cyril Church Schulenburg, TX 78956 (Make sure you don’t get the Shiner TX one)
Dubina is known as the “Mother of Czechs in Texas.” Settled in 1856, it was the first community solely of Czechs. Many of the old-timers in this area actually prefer to be called Bohemians as Czecklsolvakia did not exist until after the war. The region of Europe where they came from was called Bohemia (Sudetenland by the Germans if you remember your WWII history).
The fact that the church exists today is a testament to the community. The first church was erected in 1877 by the Dubina community with an iron cross on top forged by a freed slave named Tom Lee. The first church was destroyed by a hurricane and re-built in 1912 with the salvaged iron cross back on top. In 1952, the diocese thought that all the color in the church was distracting and white-washed over. Thankfully in 1983, Ed Janecka, a local resident and Fayette County judge has led a group of local residents to restore it.
Today you can see the brilliant blue ceiling with gold stars, floral stenciling and hand-painted frescoes of angels. The Bohemians prefer to the let the sunshine in and the sanctuary is very bright. It seems all the more special because it was handcrafted by multiple generations.
This church has a locked gate just inside the front doors, so you can only look from afar unless with a tour group, but it’s still spectacular to see all the colors and light in this unique painted church.
On the grounds of the church, you will see the outhouses with Czech writings and also the former corner store.
High Hill: St. Mary's Catholic Church
Google Address: 2833 FM 2672, Schulenburg, TX 78956
Built in 1906, this painted church nicknamed the “queen” is the crown jewel of the painted churches after a 2011 renovation. The German Texans built this red-brick church in the Gothic Revival style and filled it with stained glass and statues of saints.
It also has an elaborate altar, a chandelier, a pipe organ, Stations of the Cross imported from Italy and a painted reproduction of Michelangelo’s “Pietà.” The apse dome is awash in a periwinkle blue, accented in gold leaf with trompe l’oeil and faux marble was painted with turkey feathers.
Eighteen stained-glass windows purchased from Germany portray biblical scenes. Each has the name of the German family who purchased it. Look carefully and there is a lot of interesting symbols in the glass.
A local parishioner came and spent 20 minutes talking to me about the church and he explained that St. Mary’s also received a mid-century white wash and the community has spent a lot of time and money ($400K) to repair it. The bottom section is still covered over and will be revealed at a later time (You can see a part of it by the Pietà). The ceiling is actually painted canvas that has been taken down cleaned up and replaced onto the timber beams.
The vestibule has scripture in German. The scripture on the north wall is Psalm 47:10: “Wir haben emptangen, o herr, deine Barmherzigkeit im Innern deines Tempels.” Translation: “We have received O Lord Your divine mercy within Your temple.”
The scripture on the south wall is Psalm 42:4: “Ich werde eingehem zu Gottes Altar will dich loben mein Gott.” Translation: I will enter into the altar of God and will praise my God.” The Psalms are said to be from an 1832 Deutch translation of a Volgate Roman Catholic Bible. The text was restored exactly as it was originally painted, along with all of the original art and stenciling.
The church has today ~85 parishioners. Their main event is a parish picnic the Sunday during Memorial Day weekend, with plenty of German food and performances by German and Czech bands.
Praha: St. Mary's Church of the Assumption
Google Location: 821 FM 1295, Flatonia
This church was closed for restoration when I visited in 2016 and I was unable to go inside. St Mary’s Praha was built in 1895 by the Czech community who settled here and named their community Praha (Prague). This church has a stone exterior. The inside is a stunning blue-and-white checkerboard floor leads to the apse with wildflowers and angels painted to resemble the Garden of Eden. St. Mary’s will reopen August 15 on its festival day “Prazka Pout” (Homecoming). At many of the churches, you can see their community center (aka Bier Garten) across from the church.
Down a dirt road 1/2 mile from the Dubina church, you can find the Piano Bridge. This 1885 iron bridge is one of the few remaining in the country. Built by King Bridge Company of Cleveland, the bridge looks like a piano-wire truss. The locals say it is named after the musical sound that it makes when you drive over it. As the sign said “weak bridge”, I decided to just take a look and walked over the bridge.
Google Location: 936 FM2436, La Grange, TX 78945
One other religious stop to make is to Queen of the Holy Rosary Church perched over the La Grange valley. A grotto built in the 1920s replicates the Shrine of Miracles in Lourdes, France. Workers used remnants of an old stone wall and rocks quarried from the nearby Colorado River. When the grotto was complete in the fall of 1925, 17 priests and 7,000 people attended the dedication ceremony. You will also see two Civil War-era cannons honor a father and son who fought for opposing sides—the father a Confederate, and the son a Union soldier.
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