The Painted Churches are one of Texas’ historical gems. While not widely known, twenty of these churches appear on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of these churches are available for the public to enjoy the amazing art of our ancestors; others are closed to the public. They are located from south Texas to north Texas to the panhandle, and a handful reside in central Texas.
Dubina, Czech for Oak Grove, was first settled in 1856 by Moravian immigrants from what is now the Czech Republic. These Czech-Moravians traveled for 14 weeks across the Atlantic, finally landing in Galvestion. After much hardship, they found their way to the fertile lands just south of La Grange. Working together, these tough people forged a community and erected their first church in 1900. A hurricane (1909) and then a fire (1912) destroyed their small church. A third church was designed by Leo Dielmann. The community raised over $5,500 to construct this new parish, and the building the building has served as the community center since then. The Saint Cyril and Methodius Church is colorful and ornate. The frescoes on the walls and ceiling have undergone several transformations, the final one coming in 1983 to restore the art to its original state.
The beauty of these churches is stunning, but the journey of the immigrants that established and built these structures tell an even more amazing story. In the 1840s, large groups of Germans and Czechs made their way to central Texas and established communities in what is now Fredericksburg, Schulenburg, Shiner, Dubina, La Grange, New Braunfels, and many other areas. The journey to this new land was arduous and long, often lasting three to four months. For several groups, the trek required 14 weeks of sailing across the Atlantic. The Germans and Czechs that survived the trip entered Texas through Galveston, the “Ellis Island of the West.” From there, groups would scatter. Some traveled onto Iowa and others stayed in Texas. A ferry would transport them up Buffalo Bayou, then they would set out in wagons. Some of these groups settled in central Texas in the 1850s – many in Fayette County – and built the famous Painted Churches of central Texas in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
In 1887, settlers exited the first train to roll through Fayette County, and not long after the town of Shiner was born. Czech and Germans of the new town met and, after purchasing two acres of land east of the traintracks, a new church was planned.
The church we see today is one of the famed and beautiful painted churches – St. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church. The first structure was completed May 31, 1891, but it did not last, as it was blown off its foundation by a tornado in 1892. Undeterred, the community did not abandon the building. Soon, the walls were straightened and the tower replaced.
As the town grew, more room became necessary for the parish to serve its people.
The structure standing today was designed by the architect, James Wahrenburger, in a beautiful Gothic style. The colorful stained glass shines with vibrant color, and rich, detailed frescoes bring the Garden of Gethsemane to life as it rises above the altar.
Today, and within a small radius near Schulenburg, some of the most beautiful parishes, not only in Texas but in the nation, show off their treasures and are open for the public to enjoy. In this area east of San Antonio, these small parishes resemble the Gothic architecture of the German and Czech homeland. The interiors are filled with magnificent works of art – frescoes on the ceilings, ornate columns, detailed statues of the saints and angels, and vibrant colors that fill the room with life.
Happy Travels, Texas, and I hope you can enjoy these churches someday regardless of your faith or persuasion.
Images from Texas