Touring the Painted Churches of Texas by RV
Touring the Painted Churches of Texas by RV
A unique road trip option for those who love art and history.
By: Sue Ann Jaffarian
A few years ago, a dear friend and lifelong Texan mentioned to me that she had always wanted to visit the painted churches of Texas, but had never done so. Wait! That’s a thing? After Googling it, I decided I wanted to see them too.
Unfortunately, because of COVID, these churches were closed to the public for a while, but this November I got to tour some of these magnificent historical structures and some other interesting places nearby. Along with me for the journey was another lifelong Texan friend who had also never seen them.
The painted churches of Texas are well worth visiting. They are not only beautiful but provide a great understanding of the immigrants who settled that area in the 1800s. Homesick and lacking the funds and materials to duplicate the grand churches they left behind, these folks recreated them in paint and it is a wonder to behold.
An Intro to the Painted Churches of Texas
The first stop when visiting the painted churches should be the Schulenburg Chamber of Commerce, where you can pick up an official booklet for $5.00. Well worth the money. They will also provide you with a list of all the painted churches. Internet research told me there were twenty painted churches. There are actually thirty-two!
Even so, only a handful are open to the public and most of those are in the Schulenburg area, located about halfway between Houston and San Antonio. You can book guided tours of the churches at the Chamber of Commerce, or go on your own, which we did.
TIP: Do not plan to visit the churches on the weekend. These are active congregations. On Saturday, many are closed to the public because of events such as baptisms and weddings. They hold services on Sunday. The best time to view them is Monday-Friday.
Ammansville: St. John the Baptist Catholic Church
Our first church stop was St. John the Baptist in Ammansville, about 15 minutes away from Schulenburg. Ammansville itself has only about 50 residents, but this lovely church serves the entire area of farms and ranch families.
First built in 1890, the church was destroyed by a storm in 1909. It was rebuilt, then in 1917 was totally destroyed by fire and rebuilt again. Many of the statues in the present church were rescued by parishioners who dashed into the fire to save them.
One of the most notable things about the decorations of these churches is the amazing stenciling. St. John the Baptist’s basic background color is a soft salmon with intricate stenciling of borders and stenciled garlands along the roof edge, as well as within panels of the curved ceiling. These were all done by hand.
Dubina: Sts. Cyril & Methodius Church
A few miles away was Dubina, home of Sts. Cyril & Methodius Church. Dubina was the first Czech settlement in Texas, founded in 1856. Before building a church, the parishioners met in a log cabin. The church was built in 1877 but, like St. John the Baptist, was destroyed in 1909 by a storm. It was rebuilt by 1912. In 1952 the church was modernized, and many of the original paintings were covered up, but later the parishioners uncovered them and had the beautiful original work restored.
This church was open for viewing, but only as far as the vestibule. There was a gate across the entry into the sanctuary, but the gate was open enough to view and take photos of the sanctuary with its blue and cream color scheme. Again, the stenciling and paint work was stunning. I am so glad that the parish decided to bring the original artwork back.
High Hill: St. Mary’s Catholic Church
The next church we visited was St. Mary’s Catholic Church, also known as the Queen of the Painted Churches. St. Mary’s is an imposing brick church, unlike the first two which were sweet white country churches. It was beautiful inside and outside. The inside was a blend of pink/light salmon with soft blue and green. But these soft colors are not subdued, as you might imagine, but brilliant.
The ceiling over the altar is decorated with gold stenciling and arches. The stenciling at St. Mary’s was much more formal and intricate than the first two churches. Even the undersides of the arches were stenciled. It was easy to see why it was dubbed Queen.
Praha: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church
The next church was in the small community of Praha. Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church is a beautiful stone church on impressive grounds. It was built in 1895 to replace a small hut used for mass. Before going inside, we noticed three stone shrines on the grounds and investigated. Nine young men from Praha were killed in World War II. Each of these shrines honors three of them. It is very touching.
Inside the church, the first thing I noticed was the high polish on the floor and the pews. The floor was so glossy that it reflected the sunlight coming through the stained-glass windows. The dominating colors in this church were cream, soft blue and soft green with a lot of gold trim. There was lovely stenciling in this church, but not as much as in the others.
The paintings and images on the walls and ceiling were more hand-painted rather than stenciled, with an impressive fresco above the altar. I had to do several double takes of the arches above the cream-colored columns. The area above the columns is not carved but painted in a 3-D relief to appear carved.
Serbin: St. Paul Lutheran Church
The final church we visited was in Serbin. In the mid-1850s this area was settled by Sorbian (also known as Wendish) immigrants from Lusatia, Prussia. They were not Germanic but Slavic and spoke their own Wendish language. St. Paul Lutheran Church is the only non-Catholic painted church. The church and museum are located on a large piece of property, along with a community center, cemetery, and school, in a very rural farming/ranching area.
St. Paul’s was beautiful and really appealed to my love of simplicity. There were stencils on the ceiling and along the walls, but all were simple and sparse. The walls and ceiling were painted in a bright yet soft blue, along with a white painted pulpit, altar, and railings. This church is known for its pulpit, which is above the altar on a second floor. The stained-glassed windows were also simple, with a pattern using small colored squares. The organ is opposite the pulpit on the second floor and the organ pipes are blue. On first viewing, the columns appear to be made of marble. But they are not. They are wood with hand-painted designs on them.
After viewing the church, we went to the Wendish Museum on the property. We were greeted by a lovely woman named Bettie. Bettie gave us a great tour of the museum, which included three small buildings, and Wendish history. It was very informative. The immigrants who settled the area arrived in this country by ship and landed in Galveston before making their way to the present settlement. The sea journey took three months. Many of the artifacts in the museum came from the old country via that ship journey. I think my favorite display was of the intricately painted eggs.
Bonus Church in Schulenburg!
Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church, just outside of Schulenburg, is closed to the general public, but we lucked out big time. When we drove by, there were a couple of cars in the parking lot and some women were moving flowers into the sanctuary in preparation of a wedding. We asked if we could quickly take a few photos of the inside. While they worked, we took photos and thanked them profusely afterward. The altar of this church was incredible. Pillars and cornices were painted to look 3-D. It was a charming country church, plain on the outside, gorgeous on the inside.
There is also a painted church open for viewing in Fredericksburg. We did not make it that far, but I look forward to seeing it the next time I am in that area.
Other Places of Interest in the Area
We started this trip on a Saturday without knowing about church closures, so we spent that Saturday museum hopping. We started with the Schulenburg Historical Museum right across the street from the Chamber of Commerce. It was very interesting, with artifacts dating back to the original indigenous people. The museum is housed in what used to be the town’s mercantile and really gives you a sense of what life was like for the German and Czech settlers in the early to mid-1800s and beyond. The woman managing the museum was a wealth of information and told us wonderful stories while we viewed the artifacts.
Next up was the Texas Polka Museum a few blocks away. It is in a small building that, according to the woman running it, housed different incarnations of music stores over the decades. It had all kinds of record jackets, flyers, instruments and other information related to polka and local music. The one thing that strikes you when you walk in is the music played over the speakers. Whether you like polka music or not, within minutes of entering the small museum, your toe will be tapping and your body moving to the upbeat music. It’s infectious.
There were two other museums we wanted to see. One was the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum and the other the Texas Quilt Museum. We passed on the Model Aircraft Museum because the Quilt Museum is only open on Friday and Saturday and we did not want to miss it.
The Texas Quilt Museum was beautiful, like a lovely art museum. The quilts displayed are changed out about 3-4 times a year. In the main hall are the historical quilts. In another smaller hall was a display of quilted miniatures, which are more like small artworks. Another hall had a special exhibit of modern quilted artwork. It was all fascinating. Next to the museum is a lovely garden called Grandma’s Garden. We walked around the garden and sat on one of the benches for a while. It was so peaceful.