A country church has something distinctive about it. The lovely aroma of a well-worn hymnal, the creak of a pew that’s seen generations of families, and an ever register board since last week’s attendance and offering.
They are frequently simple—wood and some basic stained glass. While the spirit within is very similar, not all country churches look the same. Some of these painted churches of Texas, are not only historic places but are true works of art.
There are numerous humble painted churches of Texas dotting the Texas Hill Country landscape. They are white clapboard or brick on the outside. They tend to be in inconspicuous towns. Sometimes in unorganized areas where there isn’t a single other building in sight. When the doors are unlocked, though, another world emerges.
1. Mary’s Catholic Church- Painted Churches of Texas
One of the first churches built by Leo M.J. Dielmann was the Nativity of Mary, Blessed Virgin Catholic Church, a well-known Texas architect. It was constructed in 1906. Dielmann was the son of a contractor who had previously worked on different building projects for the Catholic painted churches of Texas.
The Catholic hierarchy endeavored to persuade towns in Texas to construct in the more practical “Spanish” or “Mission” style of architecture in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This style was promoted because it was better adapted to the hot heat than gothic constructions.
This Mediterranean style, however, was rejected by Czech and German immigrants who arrived in Texas during this time period. Those first German and Czech immigrants arrived in early 1852 and were followed by other Czech families in 1853 and 1854.
Church authorities desired that towns construct their churches out of brick or stone. Many of the earlywoods-painted churches of Texas were destroyed by fire or storms. According to our study, the church leadership has sometimes declined to bless wood churches after they were completed.
Around the same time that Dielmann’s High Hill church was being built, he began work on another major assignment. He was commissioned to design a church for the Catholic population in the Texas Hill Country frontier town of Fredericksburg.
This emphasizes the significance of the Nativity of Mary, Blessed Virgin’s attractive red brick facade. While the interior is composed of wood, it is protected by a fire and storm-resistant brick exterior. The outside of High Hill demonstrates Dielmann’s early grasp of gothic proportions and rhythms.
Whereas baroque and rococo churches feature huge windows that allow for a lot of natural light. The gothic ideal, even with stained glass windows, demands a lot of darkness and shade. The light dims as spires climb up into the ceiling. In the dark light, images in glass or etched into the walls appear more mystical or transcendent.
2. St. John the Baptist Church – Painted churches of Texas
The entire sanctuary of St. John the Baptist in Ammannsville has been painted a deep pink, with pink and green ivy and motifs accenting it. While the hue is eye-catching on its own, it also serves as a stunning canvas for the many statues that surround the sanctuary.
The third church in this location is St. John the Baptist, which was completed in 1919. The first, built-in 1890, was destroyed by a tornado in 1909, and the second was destroyed by fire in 1917. The fact that the Baptist church had to be rebuilt a third time demonstrates how vital the presence of a church was to the small town.
Raising the sums three times in less than three decades must not have been easy. The Gothic Revival structure represents both the congregation’s German and Czech design aesthetics. The Germans liked the floor-to-ceiling ornamental components, and the Czechs liked the primarily transparent windows because they let light in.
Several of the original statues, as well as a cross recovered from the fire, pay homage to the past and the community’s resiliency. The cemetery just outside is clearly European-influenced. Large marble and metal crosses soar above eye level. Many of the old tombstones feature inscriptions in Czech, even birthplaces on another continent.
According to legend, the walls of Saint John were painted by an anonymous itinerant artist. He vanished after finishing the job, never to be seen again. Scholarly research has solved the mystery, but let’s look at this magnificent church that adds beauty to the list of painted churches of Texas. Some believe the Ammansville painted church inside has the color of cotton candy. Some say it’s the color of Pepto-Bismol. The church is a soft, rosy pink from every angle.
Buie Harwood, an interior design professor, and decorative painting expert investigated the painting processes and styles of painters who decorated churches in the area throughout the 1970s and 1980s. She investigated the art in some of the painted churches of Texas where the artists were known and discovered that the artist whose work can be seen on the walls of Ammansville is noted decorative painter, Fred Donecker.
Donecker is so little recognized. We hope that a living member of the Donecker family, who may know more about the artist, will share his tale. Later, when the chapel needed some retouching, Gene A. Mikulik, a local artist, was engaged. Mr. Mikulik and his wife, Josie, worked together to keep many of the area’s painted churches in good condition before his death.
Josie informed her husband that the two sculptures of angels holding holy water at the entrance of Ammansville were discovered discarded and in poor condition in the attic of the old rectory. Mr. Mikulik meticulously refurbished them. They now stand proudly inviting guests from all around the world.
3. Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church – Painted Churches of Texas
In 1856, a small number of families from Moravia’s northeastern region embarked on a long and grueling journey to Texas. After a brief stop in Cat Spring, and after some of the families were disheartened by the rugged terrain of Texas, the remaining group continued on to Fayette County.
Judge August Haidusek, who was twelve years old at the time of the expedition, recalled later in life when they arrived at Dubina.
These early Czech settlers were a tough bunch with a strong faith in God. After the Civil War, in 1877, they built their first church. They crowned the church with an iron cross forged by Tom Lee, a freed slave, and blacksmith.
When the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad arrived in 1887, Shiner was born. Until 1890, the initial Czech and German residents attended Mass at churches in adjacent communities. Two acres of land in Shiner were purchased at the time for the construction of a place of worship.
The first construction was a much simpler wooden forerunner to the current church, and it was finished in 1891. It was damaged by a tornado in 1892, but it was reconstructed. By 1921, the parish had outgrown the original structure, so a bigger and more expensive church—the current one—was commissioned.
It was planned by F. Wahrenburger and built beside the older structure by B. Falbo and M. Diodati. Repairs and renovations were completed in 1954. The inside is thought to have been painted soon after by artist Edmond Fatjo.
Between 1925 through 1964, Fatjo studied at the Royal Art Academy in Berlin, Germany, and worked as a church interior painter. Paintings on the walls of Sts. Cyril and Methodius include both freehand and stenciled pieces in blue and tan tones.
Another area judge, Ed Janeckas, together with Butch Koenig, led the community in renovating the church in the 1980s. Judge Janecka remembers witnessing the faint remains of the earlier artwork as an altar boy as the sunshine hit the church walls.
They discovered the ancient blueprints. Some of the original stencils were also discovered. The community took some artistic liberties when they were unsure.
The third church in our list of painted churches of Texas, Saints Cyril, and Methodius Church stand tall and bold against the Texas sky today. With its vivid paintings inside and exterior, it joins the other painted churches. It symbolizes the early settlers’ faith in God and the will to endure.
4. St. Mary’s Church of the Assumption – Painted Churches of Texas
St. Mary’s Church was constructed in 1895, making it one of the oldest painted churches of Texas. It’s a big, robust church. One can only fathom what a sacrifice the early Czech settlers must have made to build such a magnificent edifice.
According to local legend, a keg of beer was offered to the guy who dared to top the St. Mary’s church steeple with a cross. Climbing to the top was undoubtedly a perilous feat at over 130 feet. Evidently, a man who installs crosses on steeples for a living accepted the community’s offer. After bravely affixing the cross to the steeple’s top, the man performed a handstand on top of the cross.
St. Mary’s front façade is made of stone. In a niche over the main entrance, there is a bust of a crucified Christ. The colors on the bust are realistic. It foreshadows the vibrant painting and extravagant décor that will take place inside.
Ben Popelka has been caring for the church for many years. Before one can appreciate the magnificent painting on the ceiling, one must first enjoy the interior’s spotless floors and gleaming pews.
It is one of the oldest painted churches in Texas, as well as the state’s first Catholic church with a mostly Czech population. When the parishioners chose to build the yellow stone church, they had already surpassed their two prior chapels, which housed over 200 families.
However, the gaze does wander. First, see the sanctuary’s exquisite hand-carved altars, which are painted white and plated in gold. Then there’s the ceiling. Several artists’ works are on show here. Much of the inside was painted by Gottfried Flury, a Swiss-born artist from Moulton, Texas.
Flury, like many other artists of the time, mixed his own paints and worked with “secret formulae” and “unique processes.” His rich greenery of vibrant turquoise, emerald greens, and blues transformed Praha’s ceiling into an idyllic paradise. “Gottfried” means “God’s companion.” Mr. Flury was certainly God’s friend if he could decorate a church as wonderfully as he did.
5. St. Paul’s Lutheran Church – Painted Churches of Texas
Pastor Johann Kilian and about 500 Wendish immigrants set sail from Hamburg, Germany in September 1854 for Texas. The expedition claimed the lives of 73 members of the party. The Wends sought out Texas for its religious freedom as well as its inexpensive, plentiful land.
The Wends have their own language and culture. Their culture and heritage are reflected in the church they built-in 1870. For millennia, Christians have seated their congregations on two levels. In reality, one of Rome’s oldest churches still possesses what was previously known as a “matrimonial.”
Mothers and children were traditionally seated in these balcony-style seats, while men sat below. Saint Paul’s had the opposite effect. Men sat on the balcony, while ladies and children sat on the ground floor.
Young people today may find it weird that men and women sat separately, although it has been a tradition since at least 300 A.D. in Christian customs Until recently, churches in Europe and the Americas were built with their backs to the East.
Women sat on the north side of the church, where traditionally Roman Empire foes sat, while males sat on the south side. Pulpits are frequently situated on the church’s north side in order for the Word to triumph over evil.
Old-timers who attended Mass at the Catholic Painted Churches of Texas and the Lutheran Saint Paul’s remember men and women sitting separately until approximately World War II. There are no unique regulations for where men and women sit in any of the painted churches today.
Now, you have the list of the perfect painted churches of Texas to visit during your vacation and make it memorable. Except for one, all of these churches are still in use, and none of them allow visitors or tours during services. If you go on a Sunday, either wait until after the services or go on another day.
Many of the cities’ visitor centers also have information about or offer tours of their towns’ Painted Churches. If you want to schedule a tour, call the tourist center at least two weeks in advance.
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