I cannot imagine traveling across an ocean and then overland via wagon and/or foot to reach the place where my family will settle. Even more astounding, I am going to do all this without Internet to discover everything possible about the surroundings.
German and Czech immigrants were one of the groups of European people who took on this monumental task as they moved to Central Texas in the mid to late 1800s. There they had friends and family who shared language, food, and, perhaps most importantly, beliefs. Their shared religion and homesickness for the magnificent churches in their native countries resulted in the construction of many small churches that dot the countryside.
These churches are very unassuming from the exterior, but the interiors hold unimagined beauty. The immigrants to the area had worshipped in massive Gothic churches in their homelands and missed the magnificence of those places. Without the financial means, the settlers used creativity to recreate the beautiful altars, walls, and ceilings with paint, a relatively inexpensive commodity.
We visited 3 of the painted churches in the Schulenburg area. The first we visited, St. Mary’s Church, is considered the “Queen of the Painted Churches” and is located in High Hill. (All of these churches are located in small towns near Schulenburg, thus their name.) Angels, heavenly scenes, and twisting vines adorn the robin-egg blue ceiling and walls. The brick church, built in 1912, also features outstanding stained-glass windows that allow natural sunlight to flood the building.
After traveling a few miles over small country roads and an even smaller bridge, we came to Dubina where we visited Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church. (Cyril and Methodius were known as “Apostles to the Slavs.”) Unfortunately, when this wooden church was updated in the 1950s, renovation meant painting over the beautifully handcrafted art. Thankfully, pictures of the original art existed and, in 1911, they were recreated using the photos as guides.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha, which means “Prague” in Czech, is the oldest painted church in the area. The brick building, constructed in 1895, was renovated in 2015 with the art being carefully preserved. The soaring arches overhead again feature angels and even pictures of native Texas plants, a symbol of the blending of cultures that continues to be a symbol of our country.
I was particularly touched by one niche outside this church. The niche is dedicated to the 9 men from Praha who were killed in WWII. The marker states that Praha had the highest percentage casualty rate of any town in the U.S., a somber reminder of the many sacrifices our ancestors made to preserve our freedom.
These three churches still function as houses of worship, so visitors need to be aware of appropriate times to visit and of maintaining proper respect.
Have you visited these 3 churches or any of the other 17 painted churches in Texas? If so, please share which is your favorite.
– Candace Ahlfinger has loved traveling since she was little and has always been on the go whenever possible. Now she is retired and gets to do what she loves best… TRAVEL! Whether it’s traveling with her wonderful husband, or our children and grandchildren, traveling is a great experience that enriches her life. Because she always enjoys reading and hearing about others’ travel experiences, she wants to share her travels with the Ellis DownHome readers.