Though you’ve likely heard of the famous bluebonnets and wineries that permeate the Texan Hill Country, have you heard of the state's painted churches? In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Czech and German immigrants who settled the Hill Country built a collection of beautiful churches, replicas of the ones they’d left behind in Europe—and today, the painted churches of Texas are some of the most noteworthy attractions in the state. There are more than 20 painted churches in Texas, with many listed on the National Register of Historic Places. All of the churches are tremendous works of art, with hand-painted sculptures, marble walls, intricately designed columns, and vibrant, decorative patterns and stained glass, and all are an important homage to Texan history.
About 80 miles southeast of Austin, near Schulenberg, you’ll find a smattering of some of the best painted churches in the state:
St. Mary’s Catholic Church in High Hill
Often referred to as the “Queen of the Painted Churches,” St. Mary’s Catholic Church is both the cornerstone of the Painted Churches Tour and the religious history of the area’s immigrants. Though it appears perfectly ordinary from the outside, the interior is breathtaking, with huge, German-style stained glass windows (18 in all!) and ornate designs covering the wooden walls.
St. John the Baptist Church in Ammannsville
In Ammansville, you’ll find St. John the Baptist, which was initially built in 1890 and rebuilt twice in the intervening years due to a hurricane (which destroyed several of the painted churches) and fire. The church’s interior is splashed with pink details everywhere, uniquely domed ceilings, and gorgeous stained glass windows; celebrated San Antonio artist Fred Donecker painted it.
Saints Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina
Located in Dubina, Saints Cyril and Methodius Church is easily the most elaborate church of the bunch. Famed architect Leo Dielmann was hired to design the second church after a hurricane destroyed the first, and, although the building was whitewashed in the 1950s, the community was able to restore most of the original stencils and designs in the 1980s. Saints Cyril and Methodius features an awe-inspiring painted interior that includes a mural of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane overlooking the altar, while the exterior is topped with the same iron cross that graced the steeple of its predecessor.
St. Mary’s Church of the Assumption in Praha
Nearly 12,000 people came to the dedication of St. Mary’s Church in 1895, which (like most of the other churches) resembles a simple country church from the outside—although it’s anything but simple on the inside. The plain stone facade doesn’t prepare you for the incredible interior: St. Mary’s was designed in the popular Gothic Revival style of the time, and Swiss fresco artist Gottfried Flurry painted all of the eye-catching stars, palms, and flowers. The shining star of the church is undoubtedly the gleaming white altar, gilded in 24 karat gold.
Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church in Moravia
Rebuilt after the 1909 hurricane, the Ascension of our Lord Catholic Church in Moravia was painted by Fred Donecker and boasts one of the best-preserved murals of all the churches. The wooden interior siding is painted to look like stone, while the three-dimensional painting creates columns and detailed architecture work throughout the structure.
Tips for Visiting the Painted Churches
- Though you’re welcome to do a self-guided tour of each church, the guided tours do offer a robust, in-depth explanation of the churches’ history and architecture. If you’re interested in learning more about the background of the early settlers and the intersections of German/Czech and Texas culture, in particular, the tours are well worth it. (For more info on how to book a tour, check out the Schulenberg Visitor Center.)
- If organizing a tour, be sure to call the Visitor Center at least two weeks in advance to ensure that the date is available.
- All but one of the churches are still active. If you visit on a Sunday, it’s easiest to wait until after all of the services are over before exploring (or, ideally, pick another day to visit).
- Most of the churches are located in and around small towns, so food choices may be limited. Plan accordingly by bringing your own snacks and drinks, or by plotting out in advance where you want to eat.