A History in Color: The Painted Churches of Schulenburg, Texas

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Tony Maples Photography


Texas is full of hidden treasures, but among the most beautiful are the Painted Churches in the Hill Country. There are over twenty painted churches across Texas, but perhaps the most renowned and most impressive are located around Schulenberg.

German and Czech immigrants built the churches in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They were painted to emulate the beloved churches they left behind in Europe. Many of the immigrants were fleeing religious oppression, wishing to practice their faith in peace. The churches are perhaps the most awe-inspiring example of the rich German and Czech culture in the Hill Country. The Painted Churches feature hand-painted sculptures, angels, filigree, faux-marble, and stencils. Some of them, like St. Mary’s Catholic Church, are listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

A History in Color: The Painted Churches of Schulenburg, Texas

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St. Mary’s Catholic Church, located in High Hill, Texas, is often referred to as the “Queen of the Painted Churches.” It’s the cornerstone of both the Painted Churches Tour and of the religious history of immigrants in the area. The Catholic State League was formed there, and many of the church clergies were raised in High Hill. The name “High Hill” refers to the mountains that the community left behind in Germany and Austria.  The first St. Mary’s church was built in 1869, but a larger one was constructed in 1876. The larger church is still an active place of worship today, and the artwork inside remains unchanged from when it was first painted. St. Mary’s features 18 stained glass windows, in contrast to some of the churches built by Czech immigrants in the area, who preferred natural lighting over colored lighting.

A History in Color: The Painted Churches of Schulenburg, Texas

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Unlike St. Mary’s, there are some churches that have undergone restoration. Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church was whitewashed in the 1950s, and the congregation later decided to recover it, using old photographs and stencils as references.  The church is full of delicate, floral designs. There are vines and spring flowers painted on sky-blue walls, along with metallic stars. The effect is ethereal and brightening. Some of the restoring artists didn’t have any professional training but instead depended on divine guidance.

A History in Color: The Painted Churches of Schulenburg, Texas

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The reverence that accompanies the painted churches is reflected not just in the quiet, awe-filled stares of visitors, but in the paintings themselves. There’s clearly care and love in the work, and the attention to detail evokes renaissance painters. The Painted Churches are a testament to the diversity and rich culture of Texas history, and they still function as the keystones to tight-knit communities in the Hill Country.