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Photo Story: Heaven on Earth in hill country of Texas

By Frank Tilley
Aug. 1, 2013 at 3:01 a.m.
Updated Aug. 4, 2013 at 3:04 a.m.

The ceiling of Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina has a colorful history. At one point in the 1950s, the entire interior was painted white. However,  thanks to the efforts of Ed Janeckas along with Butch Koenig, the community restored the church to its current state.

Nestled in the oak groves of Fayette County near Schulenburg, the "Painted Churches" of Texas offer a rare glimpse into the early Catholic churches of Texas that German and Czech families built when they settled there in the 1890s.

Cultural diversity built this state, and the Czech immigrants who left the old country in search of a new life ventured to South Texas.

Families traveled from port destinations to Fayette County by ox cart. They then established settlements, and, when the time was right, they began work on building churches.

Memories of cathedrals like St. Vitus in Prague weighed heavy in their hearts as they set out to build their modest, small, rural churches that would become the cornerstones of their new communities.

With native oak trees in abundance, the choice of building materials was obvious, but the extraordinary craftsmanship of the interiors seems to be nothing short of heavenly. The faux-painted marble columns extend skyward to heaven in a painted fabrication of Noah's ark with the hull of the ship inverted, exposing its wooden arches.

The eastern European churches of their culture were constructed in Gothic style, which began in the 12th century and lasted until the 16th century. Short of manpower and materials, the immigrants used what was readily available and constructed a unique and remarkably beautiful architectural houses of God.

Stencils cut by hand crafted a garden of Eden with five bloom flowers, vines and angels. Shades of blue form a sky above like the brilliant ceiling of Dubina, where 3,426 white gold leaf stars were painted. The painted arches and ribbed vault in High Hill set such an inspirational mood, it is hard to believe the effect is achieved through painted art.

The ceiling of St. Mary's Church of the Assumption in Praha has been untouched since it was first painted in 1895, although restoration is scheduled to begin in August.

Artists like Gottfried Flury, Ferdinand Stockert and Hermann Kern, who migrated to America, were painters and decorators.

Stockert and Kern, who forged a partnership around 1909 in San Antonio, painted the Nativity of Mary, Blessed Virgin in High Hill. The artwork is actually oil paint on canvas that was adhered to the wooden sub-structure with a wheat paste adhesive.

In 2010, artist Robert Marshall restored the canvas in a painstaking process of injecting a polyvinyl acetate mixture behind the canvas and then, with heated irons, smoothed out the material. In all, the project took 16 months to complete.

The churches have been here for more than 100 years, but their charm is eternal. To visit the churches, it's best to schedule a guided tour through the Schulenburg Chamber of Commerce.

Tour guides like Sharon Rankin share a love of the history behind the churches and are well vested with information, facts and stories that enhance the experience.

For more information, contact The Greater Schulenburg Chamber of Commerce at 866-504-5294 or 979-743-4514

Praha, painted churches, High Hill, Dubina,Schulenburg

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