The painted churches of Texas are among the most beautiful architectural treasures in the Lone Star State. These simple yet elegant structures remain a vital part of the DNA of the small communities they have served for well over a hundred years.
Every detailed feature of these buildings is a lingering testimony to the talent of now-forgotten carpenters and craftsmen — men and women who built something that has outlived them and continues to inspire new generations of the faithful.
The original structure of the Guardian Angel Catholic Church in Wallis was built in 1899 to serve the small Czech community. Sadly, this building was destroyed by a cyclone the following year. Services were held in the homes of parishioners until a second structure was built in 1904.
By 1912, the parish had grown to about 75 families. So, parishioners raised funds for a new building. Wallis builder Jan Bujnoch was hired to build the new structure designed by German architect Leo Dielman of San Antonio. The new building was dedicated on October 21, 1915 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
The simple Gothic Revival exterior of the white structure is accented by the deep green foliage of the surrounding trees. It is a peaceful setting — the perfect place for a church building. The entry to the building is flanked by a small statue of Christ with His arms extended and a statue of a guardian angel protecting two children.
The interior of the building is quite simply magnificent. The arches, the ceiling with its gallery of biblical figures, the wooden pews, and the columns all serve to frame the ornate altar. The statutes of the Stations of the Cross depicting the passion of Christ line the walls on either side of the pews. And the beautiful stained glass windows soften the light that spills into the sanctuary.
Every element in this building in some way contributes to creating a peaceful and worshipful setting — a refuge from the outside world. Once inside, I had to take a moment to put my camera down and to just sit and take it all in. To say “they don’t build them like this anymore” would be absolutely true. Most modern church building are functional but lack the inspiring elements of the painted churches.
There are lots of great places to visit in the Lone Star State. We certainly have no shortage of natural wonders. But, as you plan your next Texas adventure, consider visiting some of the painted churches in the state. Most of these churches remain open throughout the week and welcome visitors. Enter with reverence. Linger for a while. Depart refreshed by the legacy of faith of our early Texas settlers.
Dubina bears the distinction of being the first Czech settlement in the Lone Star State. In 1856, a group of Czech settlers arrived in the area on a cold November day. A fierce norther and freezing rain forced these pioneers to seek shelter under a grove of large oak trees. Soaked with rain and at the mercy of the weather, the men built a huge fire under the protective branches of the trees. No one slept that night, but all survived.
The settlers remained in the area, built homes, and planted crops. They named their community Navidad after the nearby Navidad River. They later changed the name to Bohemian Navidad. The name was later changed again to Dubina in recognition of the oaks that had sheltered the first settlers. Dubina is the Czech word for oak grove.
Building a house of worship was a priority for these early Czech settlers who had a deep faith in God. They built their first church in 1877 on land donated by Joseph Peter. The steeple of this church was topped with an iron cross made by Tom Lee, a freed slave who worked for Peter as a blacksmith. Sadly, this church was destroyed by a hurricane in 1909. The iron cross fashioned by Lee was salvaged from the debris.
After their first church was destroyed, the community raised funds to build a new church. They hired the German architect Leo Dielmann to design the new structure. By 1911, Dubina had a new place of worship and Tom Lee’s cross once again stood atop the steeple. The interior was painted with beautiful frescos and motifs of vines, oak leaves, and angels. Unfortunately, in the 1950s, the ornate interior was whitewashed.
In 1983, Judge Ed Janeckas and Butch Koenig, led efforts to restore the church. Judge Janeckas had served as an altar boy at the church and recalled seeing faint traces of the original artwork beneath the whitewash. These original designs were uncovered during the renovation and restored using some of the original stencils.
Today, Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church of Dubina stands as an enduring reminder of the early settlers strong faith in God and their determination to begin new lives in the Lone Star State. You can see the church standing proud against the Texas sky as you approach Dubina.
The front doors of the church are open during the week but entrance to the main sanctuary is blocked by an iron gate. Guests can see the interior through the gate but can have access to the interior on Sunday and through the painted churches tour offered by the Schulenberg Chamber of Commerce.
Ammannsville is a tiny community located about nine miles southeast of La Grange. German and Czech immigrant farmers first settled in this region in the 1870s. The town is named after Andrew Ammann who just happened to be the first settler to arrive on March 12, 1870.
Ammannsville is also home to St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, also known as the Pink Church — one of the Lone Star State’s historic painted churches. This church opened its doors in 1890 and served the people of the area until it was destroyed by the Velasco Hurricane of 1909.
The second church to occupy the site was built by Leo Dielmann, the young German architect who designed and built the beautiful St. Mary’s Catholic Church in High Hill. Architectural plans and photographs on file at the Dielmann archives in San Antonio reveal that this second structure had a beautifully ornate interior, much like St. Mary’s church.
Sadly, the second church building was destroyed by fire eight years after it was built. One woman, who was just a child at the time of the fire, recalled that the fire was so intense that it melted the church bells. When folks saw the smoke, she said, they raced to the church to try to save it. Only a few of church’s statues escaped the flames.
The people of Ammannsville, determined to have their place of worship, immediately made plans to rebuild their beloved church on the same site. This third church was completed in 1909. Although the interior is beautiful, it is less ornate than that of the previous structure. The interior, sans columns, is open and bathed by the natural light that pours in through the large windows.
While the exterior of the church is white, the interior is painted in a rosy pink color — thus the name, The Pink Church. According to a legend, an unknown artist painted and embellished the interior of the church and then vanished, never to be seen again. Although the legend adds an aura of mystery to the church’s interesting history, the community actually hired a painter named Fred Donecker. Little is known about this decorative painter who is believed to have also painted the Catholic Church in Moravia, Texas.
Like the other painted churches in the area, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church has a beautiful and worshipful interior. The altar is a masterpiece of carpentry. The walls on either side are adorned with the familiar stations of the cross that portray the events of the Passion of Christ. The welcoming angel statues at the entrance of the church hold sea shell shaped containers of holy water for those who come to pray and worship.
St. John the Baptist Catholic Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The church is open daily to visitors who venture off busy Interstate 10 or who meander down the surrounding farm to market roads. Set your GPS to Ammannsville — that’s all the address you need. You can’t miss the church. It’s the tallest structure in the area, and the most beautiful.
The steeple of St. Mary’s Catholic Church towers like the tall mast of a ship above the vast pastures surrounding the historic community of High Hill. Founded by German and Austrian-Moravian settlers in the 1840s, High Hill is home to the beautiful St. Mary’s Catholic Church, known as the Queen of the Painted Churches. The painted churches of Texas are indeed a treasure.
St. Mary’s was designed and built in 1906 by Leo Dielmann, a young architect from Germany. At a time when churches were built in the more practical Mission style that was better suited to the hot Texas climate, Dielmann championed the classic gothic revival architectural style. Many of the wood churches of the period were destroyed by fire and storms, thus influencing German and Czech immigrants to build their churches of brick or stone.
In its early years, High Hill was a stop along a transcontinental stage-coach route. However, when the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway wanted to lay tracks through their community, the residents refused to give the railroad any right of way. They feared that doing so would destroy the tranquility of the town. Instead, the railroad built its line south of town and Schulenburg was founded as a result. As for High Hill, it remained a quiet and tranquil little town.
Today, St. Mary’s Catholic Church remains as an enduring and endearing monument to the faith of the early settlers of High Hill. The interior of the church is absolutely beautiful. Every ornate detail testifies to the remarkable craftsmanship and talent of the artists and builders. The interior is a symmetrical feast for the eyes. The stained glass windows allow just enough light to seep in to enhance the worshipful atmosphere. You can easily sense that the church’s builders labored for the glory of God.
Visiting the Queen of the Painted Churches is certainly worth taking the short three-mile detour north of Schulenburg on Interstate 10. The doors are open and guests are requested to show proper etiquette when visiting the church. Be sure to take your camera. Once you stop by for a visit, you’ll understand why St. Mary’s is on the National Register of Historic Places and has earned the title Queen of the Painted Churches.
The painted churches of Texas are one of the Lone Star State’s best historical treasures. The legacy of German and Czech immigrants, these churches are a testimony to the faith of those who settled frontier towns from the Gulf Coast to the Texas Hill Country. There are about twenty painted churches in Texas — so called because their sanctuaries are beautifully adorned with hand-painted murals and other colorful decorative elements.
The Catholic Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Shiner, Texas is one of the most beautiful of the painted churches. Shiner was founded by German and Czech immigrants in 1887. While the early citizens of Shiner were busy building their homes and businesses, they did not neglect the spiritual welfare of their new community. The first Catholic church building was completed in 1891 and served the people of the community for many years.
Rapid growth of the parish in subsequent years led to the construction of the larger church building that is still in use today. Completed in 1921, this beautiful building is regarded as one of the most magnificent Gothic structures between San Antonio and Houston. The church is named after Saints Cyril and Methodius, two brothers who were honored missionaries to the Slavic peoples during the ninth century.
Both the exterior and interior of the church building are a feast for the eyes. The exterior is patterned after the Romanesque architectural style. The interior boasts a beautiful hand-painted mural behind the ornate altar depicting Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. Other painted features include clouds on the ceiling of the dome above the altar and angels on the panel above the arch as you face the altar. These beautiful murals are the work of Edmond Fatjo, the artist. Fatjo was trained in Berlin and specialized in painting church interiors.
The six large stained glass windows depicting Biblical scenes were made in Munich, Germany and imported to Shiner when the church was built. Stand glass windows, it seems, have become a forgotten element in modern church architecture. However, the stained glass windows in the sanctuary of the church in Shiner not only add a worshipful ambiance to the interior, they serve as a passive form of education — like illustrated pages from the Scriptures.
The dramatic murals and other decorative elements make the Catholic Church of Saints Cyril and Methodius one of the most beautiful churches in the Lone Star State. It’s no wonder that this church has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1983. Other painted churches are located in the towns of Ammansville, Dubina, High Hill, Praha, Schulenberg, West, and Fredericksburg — all towns whose historic painted churches are a testimony to the spiritual and cultural legacy of early German and Czech immigrants to Texas.
As you consider daytrips near you or roadtrips farther away from you, consider visiting the painted churches of Texas. They are indeed a Texas treasure. The church in Sculenburg keeps its doors open throughout the week and welcomes visitors. You can check the internet for the best times to visit some of the other painted churches or sign up for a tour of the painted churches through the Schulenburg Chamber of Commerce.