I started visiting the painted churches of Texas several years ago, beginning with St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Fredericksburg. I was intrigued by their art and the familiarity I felt from previous travels to western and central Europe in my younger days. The more I researched the history of these churches, the more I came to appreciate and respect the people that created these works of art. They were tough, family oriented, and worked together as a community. Originally hailing from what is now Germany and the Czech Republic, Germans, Austrians, and Czechs immigrated to Texas in mid-1800s to early 1900s in search of a better life. Their point of entry was “Ellis Island of the West” – Galveston. From there they made their way to the rolling hills of what is now central Texas. We know their influence in our state from the great food and drink found in smaller towns, but slightly less known is the art created in their places of worship.
Today, 20 churches are registered in the National Register of Historic Places. The most well-known are located east of the Texas Hill Country in the Schulenburg area, but more are scattered throughout the state – from south Texas to north Texas to the Panhandle. Some are accessible to the public and some are not.
The most well-known and visited of the Painted Churches are found in the Schulenburg area and Fayatte County from Ammannsville to Shiner. This group of five parishes are usually open for those wishing to enjoy the artistic works (but check ahead just in case). Tours are also available through the Schulenburg Chamber of Commerce. If you do visit, please keep in mind these are places of worship. Most of these churches still operate today.
Those early settlers endured a long journey from Europe to Galveston – often up to 14 weeks on a boat. From there, they’d travel up Buffalo Bayou, eventually finding land to claim as their own. The travels were brutal, filled with sickness and hunger, but they worked together as a community to make a better life. Through these churches, though plain on the outside, the people created a little of what they left behind. The art takes on a traditional Gothic and baroque style. Intricate frescoes adorn the walls and ceilings, and pillars and statues stand out with brilliant with painstaking attention to colorful detail. Each church has a unique feel and color, and the history of Czech and German settlers seems to permeate these buildings.
I hope this gallery can impart the beauty of these Texas gems. As I travel to more sites, I’ll hope to add more images from these beautiful working relics of our history.