When Czech and German immigrants came to Texas in the 1800’s, many settled in the central part of the state and named their towns after the places they had left – Praha, Dubina, Schulenburg, Fredericksburg. These thriving communities prospered by working hard, helping one another and praying together.
In an effort to make their new churches feel more like the ancient Gothic structures of their homelands, these early settlers painted the walls, altars, and arches of their simple wooden sanctuaries in colorful patterns and clever tromp l’oeil images. These buildings came to be known as the Painted Churches of Texas. They have been preserved and stand today in honor of those whose artistry and devotion created them.
Across the landscape of the Texas Hill Country, there are 20 unassuming churches. On the outside they are white clapboard or brick. In general they are in unassuming towns. The Chamber of Commerce in Schulenburg has made it easy to see four of these beautiful churches with local, informed volunteer guides. We recently had the privilege of taking this tour, which lasted about three hours. We visited painted churches in Dubina, Ammannsville, High Hill and Praha.
Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Dubina
Dubina was settled in 1856, and is known as the “mother of Czechs in Texas”. Its first church followed 21 years later but was destroyed by a storm in 1909. The current church replaced the original in 1912. After completion the interior was painted with frescoes and the entire church was stenciled. In 1952 the entire church was painted over. It was recreated by artisans in 1983.
Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church, High Hill
A few miles away (and across the fascinating Piano Bridge) is St. Mary’s. Built in 1906, the imposing structure has an exterior of red brick, but the interior is alive with color and pattern. Bold ceilings are gold, with decorative vines and flowers climbing the arches. Every inch of the building is painted, gilded or adorned in some way. The flowers, palms and stars that grace the ceiling and walls were painted by Swiss fresco artist Gottfried Flurry. His tromp d’oeil designs mimic vaults, relief and marble seen in the ancient churches of central Europe.
Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church, Ammannsville
The parish began in the late nineteenth century. The first church building, built in 1890, was destroyed by a hurricane in 1909. The present church was dedicated in 1919. The interior is designed in the Gothic-Revival style, emphasized by the repeated gothic arch. It departs from the traditional basilica plan in that it has no columns, opening the entire nave to the gothic arched ceiling.
St. Mary’s Church of the Assumption, Praha
The church in Praha was built in 1895 with a soaring steeple and a beautiful stone facade. Inside the polished floors reflect the grand chandelier. The entire arched ceiling has a soft blue-green background, and around the edges are painted foliage and flowers. On the wall behind the hand-carved altar are three angels clad in yellow, blue and pink.