Painted and Historical Churches of Texas (Fayette County Area)

Painted and Historical Churches of Texas (Fayette County Area)

In the mid-1800s, immigrants from Bohemia (today’s Czech Republic), Germany, Switzerland, and Austria made the treacherous journey via ship to Galveston. Many settled in the Central Texas area, especially in Fayette County. They brought the European custom of decorating the interiors of their churches, but didn’t have the resources to use marble, gold leaf, and elaborate art. Several traveling artists, schooled in the Old World, used painting techniques to decorate the wooden interiors.

We visited in late March and the wildflowers were starting to bloom. It was beautiful to spot the steeples down a county lane, then glimpse the churches with rolling fields around them.

Many of the churches are clustered around Schulenburg. The Chamber of Commerce gives guided tours, but we wanted to do our own thing over an entire weekend, so we bought their map to 5 or 6 of the churches for $5. It is a good map, but there are several more churches to see in the area. Google Maps and iMaps don’t necessarily have the best directions and you have to travel many country roads. If you are going, let me know and I’ll send you my notes.

St. Paul Lutheran (LCMS) – Serbin, TX

After a harrowing sea journey, Wendish people settled here to practice religious freedom. The Wends are a German/Austrian Slavic minority, sometimes called “Sorbians”. Other Germans joined the congregation through the years. The log cabin on the property is the original church of 1855 and the pastor’s home until 1884.

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The church is “Plain on the outside; pretty on the inside.”

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Inside, the marble white walls, cerulean detailing and intricately designed columns are lovely. The pulpit, which is located 20 feet off the ground on the second level of the church, is supposedly the tallest in Texas. Only men were allowed on the second story, closest to heaven.Serbin-1

Supposedly, the community painted the interior of this one. Even the organ pipes are painted blue!

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Queen of the Holy Rosary Church – Hostyn, TX

This church is not a painted one. The interest here is on the outside — especially the reproduction of the Shrine of Miracles in Lourdes, France.

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Stations of the Cross are in small rock statues around the grounds, with captions in English and Marble plaques in Czech.

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Two cannons commemorate a father and son who fought on opposite sides in the Civil War.

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In addition, the cemetery has a nice view of rolling hills and a windmill.

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United Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) – Swiss Alp, TX

This is a very cute white church with bright red doors and accents, but is not painted inside, as far as we could tell (doors were locked).

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It was founded by Swiss or Wendish immigrants (depending on the source). One of the flags in the front is the Swiss Lutheran standard and the town is Swiss Alp, so I’m going with Swiss immigrants! These immigrants must have been really homesick. The only connection I could see with the Swiss Alps was happy cows grazing in green pastures.

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The cemetery has some nice old headstones.

Freyburg Methodist Church – Freyburg, TX

This open-plan Gothic church with a central entry bell tower has 37 members on the rolls. I hope they can sustain this simple country church.

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We liked the Pastor’s Pathway in the front with pavers listing every pastor (beginning in 1868) and their time of service.

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St. Mary’s Church of the Assumption (Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church) – Praha, TX

The old wooden beams of this church are painted to resemble the golden crown moldings and dazzling architecture of a grand European cathedral. The ornate white altars are beautiful. The vaulted ceiling was painted by a famous Swiss artist and has never been repainted. Some say the freehand paintings of foliage and flowers represents the Garden of Eden.

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Small stone memorial chapels around the property commemorate the nine men from Praha who died in WWII – the highest percentage of a town’s population anywhere in the US.

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Ascension of Our Lord – Moravia, TX

This one was closed on Palm Sunday afternoon so we peeked in the windows to see some of the paintings and walked through the pretty cemetery next door.

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St. Mary’s Church (Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church) – High Hill, TX

This church is known as “Queen of the Painted Churches.” Austrian and German immigrants built and painted this one. The parishioners couldn’t afford true Gothic vaulting for the ceiling, so wood pieces were shaped and gold-leafed to mimic vaults. The apse dome is periwinkle blue, accented in gold leaf. The trompe l’oeil and faux marble was painted with turkey feathers. The Stations of the Cross were imported from Italy and there is a painted reproduction of Michelangelo’s “Pietà.”

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The designs were originally painted on canvas panels which were then applied to the walls and ceilings. You can see portions of the canvases in the back corner in a small chapel. The canvas on the ceiling was cleaned and repainted, but the walls were whitewashed and this ruined the canvases, so the walls were repainted.

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This church had my favorite windows of the trip: intricate, colorful stained glass with many Old World Catholic symbols.

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Piano Bridge – Dubina, TX

Dubina was the first settlement in Texas comprised solely of Czech-Moravians. Dub means oak tree in Czech.
You cross the Piano Bridge on your way into Dubina. Built in 1885, this is one of the few iron truss bridges left in the US. It looks like a piano wire truss and the locals say it hums as you drive over it. We detected a slight hum.

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Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church – Dubina, TX

(not to be confused with Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church in Shiner)
The building was built in 1909 after a hurricane destroyed the original church.

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The original artwork was painted at that time. In 1950s, the Catholic hierarchy decided the painting was distracting from worship and ordered the walls in this church and others to be painted white. After people started noticing the faded original paintings on the wall, the community came together to recreate the painting. Using stencils found in the church, as well as adding new designs, the church was transformed into a vibrant work of art.

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The ceilings are painted blue, with gold stars. The six angels on the ceiling spread their wings as if heading to the starry sky. But one of the angels is a fiery red and some think he represents Beelzebub, the fallen angel (Satan).

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St. John the Baptist Church – Ammansville

This church is known as “the pink one.” The current building, which was built in 1919, is actually the third church that was built there — the first two were destroyed, one by a hurricane and the other by a fire.

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The painting is exceptional and the three altars are the most ornate that we saw. The painting techniques include stenciling, freehand, infill, and marbeling.

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The congregation is both German and Czech, so there is blend of styles. The Germans added decorative elements from floor to ceiling. However the windows are largely clear with only portions of stained glass – Czechs prefer clear glass to let the light in.

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Other churches

There are several more churches, painted and historical, that we want to see. That will have to be other trips!

Dining in Schulenburg

The Shop Downtown is a fun, funky coffeehouse with a friendly owner. www.facebook.com/theshopdowntown/

The Garden Co. is a nursery and restaurant. The food is fantastic. We had an amazing flank steak salad, lamb burger, and brussels sprouts appetizer. www.thegardencoandcafe.com/

Lodging

We stayed at Night Bird Ranch between Giddings and Round Top. It’s not in the middle of the church sites, but wasn’t a long drive along beautiful country roads. Five motel-type rooms and a dining hall are set on a prairie and populated with rescued dogs, horses, cows, donkeys, and sheep. It’s nothing fancy, but fun. There is a small pond where you can fish for bass. www.nightbirdranch.com

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Rome, Part 2

Rome, Part 2

One thing I find fascinating about Rome is that in the middle of the bustling city are antiquities, medieval castles, Baroque churches, Renaissance masterpieces, and modern art. I loved taking photos of the juxtapositions.

        

As every tourist does, we went to the Spanish Steps…

…and the Trevi Fountain. It was packed.

The high point of our time in Rome was the Basilica of St. Peter.

St. Peter’s is so huge that there are markings on the floor showing the size of other major cathedrals in the world, all much smaller than this. Ornate decorations cover every surface.

         

To think that Michelangelo created The Pieta when he was 23! What genius.

Many of the people in our group are choir members of White’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake, TX. They and others from our group sang during Saturday evening mass at the high altar of St. Peter’s. It was a moving experience and the choir sounded beautiful in the space. I was so enthralled that I didn’t take photos of the choir! Mass was held at an altar in front of Bernini’s “Chair of St. Peter”.

It was also exciting that we were in St. Peter’s after closing time for tourists. We were able to stroll through and really enjoy the chapels and art.

         

The Tiber looked magnificent in the moonlight!

Rome, Part 1

Rome, Part 1

We spent a couple of days in Rome, mostly visiting places I’d seen decades before. I was happy to re-visit, remember, and notice new things! I thought late September would be a good time to visit because of cooler weather and fewer tourists. Wrong! It was very hot and extremely crowded.

Even though Rome has its share of urban blight, there are also amazing antiquities and beautiful scenes throughout the center of the city.

The Catacombs of Domitilla was originally a pagan funerary burial site. It is the largest catacomb in Rome, though not as creepy as the one I visited way back when. The underground basilica, constructed in the fourth century in the location of the remains of two Roman Christian martyrs, no longer houses the relics. However, it is an interesting, inviting chapel.

I do so love the Vatican Museums — 70,000 works of art in 54 galleries. I’d love to spend days there, but the staff tends to move tourists along at a steady clip.

This trip, our group took a route through the Map Room, which I loved.

     

It was so crowded that I spent a lot of time looking at the ceilings, and they were magnificent!

                 

The huge tapestries told vibrant Biblical stories.

We ended at the Sistine Chapel. It has been restored since I was here and the effect is much brighter and vibrant. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed, but you know what it looks like.

Sorrento and Pompeii, Italy

Sorrento and Pompeii, Italy

Sorrento is a lovely town resplendent with lemon groves. It would make a wonderful base camp for exploring the Amalfi Coast.

The Sorrento Cathedral dates from the 14th century and was built over centuries in different styles. The baroque ceiling perfectly framed the relatively simple altar and chapels.

The Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, though small, is charming.

We enjoyed peeking into alleys, admiring the art and architecture, and headed down to the nearly empty beach.

       

Pompeii

From Sorrento, we had a short ride to Pompeii. When Mount Vesuvias erupted in 79 AD, there were as many as 15,000 inhabitants who were still rebuilding from an earthquake in 62 AD. Although portions of the city have been restored (with differing levels of success), we felt immersed in the city. We explored volcanic-rock-paved streets in front of stores, restaurants, and working people’s homes…

           

Luxurious villas with murals and mosaics…

The center of discourse and government, the Forum…

Theaters…

And temples.

One-third of the city has yet to be excavated and we watched the current dig for a few minutes. An especially gruesome (and popular) series of plaster casts were made from bodies that decayed in the ash, leaving a void. I didn’t spend much time with these realistic depictions of panic.

Vesuvias, still active, overlooks the devastation.

When we returned to our ship, we continued our tradition of watching beautiful sunsets over the towns and the sea.

Amalfi Coast, Italy

Amalfi Coast, Italy

This was my first visit to the well-known Amalfi coast. Edie had been there before and knew a fantastic guide who showed us the amazing sights.

A dozen or so towns line the steep southern shore of the Sorrentine Peninsula. These cities are linked by the 25-mile Amalfitana road—one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Around every corner was an amazing view.

We were very happy a professional was driving!

The region is known for its delicious lemons and limoncello. Every home, large or small, has a small terrace of lemon trees.

We first explored Positano, in an absolutely beautiful setting. We walked through the narrow streets and down to the beach, and had no intention of ever leaving.

But, we were tempted away by more of the amazing drive, this time to Ravello. We stopped at a ceramic factory with a great view!

Ravello is a medieval town, known for its musical festivals. We had lunch at a fabulous restaurant. Mama came out and told us what she thought we should have and then went into the kitchen and made it! It was a fabulous selection of four pastas, each with a different sauce. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven!

To walk off that feast, we headed to the town of Amalfi and walked through town to the piazza and Duomo.

 

Then, up the hill to the Villa Rufolo, which must have been an amazing showcase in its time. Only recently have ruins of Turkish mineral baths been excavated. A stroll through the gardens takes you to the terrace for a dramatic view.

Finally back on ship, we enjoyed a beautiful panorama of the town of Amalfi.

Siracusa and Taormina, Sicily

Siracusa and Taormina, Sicily

We docked in Siracusa and took a (long) bus ride along a mountain ridge to Taormina.

Taormina is perched on a cliff overlooking the Ionian Sea.

The modern village is built on top of an important ancient city. There are amazing ruins and buildings from many centuries.

The Ancient Theater was probably rebuilt by the Romans on the foundations of an older Greek theater.

At the top of the theater, we enjoyed a nice view of Mt. Etna capped by clouds.

The Palazzo Corvaja is now an exhibit venue. It is an example of the varied influences here. It was built atop Roman foundations and a 10th-century Saracen fortress, has a 13th-century staircase and ornamental balcony, and centers on an Arabic tower and inner courtyard!

The Duomo dates from the 13th century and looks fabulously medieval.

There was amazing art from many eras everywhere we turned.

I’d like to spend some time in Siracusa. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and contains a “stunning” Greek theater, a Roman amphitheater, baroque palaces, and a beautiful duomo and piazza.

Malta

Malta

One reason I was excited to go on this trip was the opportunity to visit Malta–who goes to Malta? I was not disappointed.

Valetta

Valetta (the capital) enjoys 320 monuments within 135 acres and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The approach was beautiful, with lighthouses on either side of the harbor entrance, huge ramparts surrounding the city, and a castle on an island.

The exterior of the St. John’s Co-Cathedral doesn’t even hint at the opulence inside! This cathedral was built by the Knights of St. John, who ruled the island in the 14th to 16th centuries. They built the cathedral in thanks for their victory over the Ottomans in 1565. The interior has breathtaking ceilings, gold everywhere, and an absolutely amazing marble floor. St. John’s also houses two Caravaggio masterpieces, of which photos are not allowed.

   

We walked up to the Upper Barakka Gardens for beautiful views of the harbor.

Mdina

The city of Mdina (not to be confused with Medina!) is 4000 years old and was once Malta’s capital. Its surrounding walls protect 15th- and 16th-century mansions. Every alley leads to a surprise.  I guess that’s why a lot of the location filming for “Game of Thrones” is done here!

             

Bay of St. Paul

We went to the Bay of St. Paul, where “legend has it” he shipwrecked. Scholars seem to agree that it was somewhere on Malta, but disagree on which cove. In any case, it is a beautiful bay with a statue of St. Paul.

As we left the port, we marveled at the beauty and history on Malta!