St. Agnes Church in Terlingua

The ghost town of Terlingua is located in the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert, one of the most rugged and hostile environments in Texas. The name of the town is derived from the Spanish words “tres lenguas” meaning “three tongues.” The discovery of quicksilver in the mid-1880s turned Terlingua from a sleepy little village into a town of a thousand-plus residents.St. Agnes ChurchBy 1913, Terlingua had a dependable water supply, mail delivery, somewhat reliable telephone service, a hotel, and a physician. Sometime in 1914, St. Agnes Church, also known as Chisos Mission, was established and became the focal point of the mining town. Itinerant priests held services at the church once a month and also officiated at baptisms, weddings, and funerals.St. Agnes Church InteriorChurch records indicate the priests adopted the Terlingua Cemetery. The burial ground is listed as St. Agnes Chisos Cemetery on church records but the official death records continued to list it as the Terlingua Cemetery. And although the town was segregated with Mexican families living east of the company store and Anglo families to the west, both Mexicans and Anglos were laid to rest in the same cemetery.St. Agnes Church AltarThe adobe building was constructed on a raised stone foundation on the side of a hill overlooking the town. The building has survived the ravages of time and remains an iconic symbol of the importance of faith in this remote place. The interior is completely unpretentious — offering worshipers hard wooden benches, a weathered pine floor, painted adobe walls, and a simple altar. The spiritual comfort the faithful have received here, however, more than makes up for any lack of creature comforts.St. Agnes Church ExteriorI hope to return to Terlingua to learn more about the old church and its history. Suffice it to say that St. Agnes Church has a beauty all its own. We’ll never know how many people over the years found solace, refuge, and the help they longed for inside the walls of this old church. St. Agnes Church remains as an enduring reminder that faith is important and can thrive in the harshest of places.

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