From the outside, the church in Fredericksburg, Texas, doesn’t seem to earn its colorful name.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church shines in the Texas Hill Country sunlight with its white facade and gothic architecture with spires reaching up as if to God himself, but it doesn’t fit its moniker of a “Texas Painted Church…” until you go inside.
Created by a mostly-German and Czech immigrant population in the mid-19th century, the Texas “painted churches” may seem typical on the outside but are elaborately and extravagantly painted inside with faux finishes that dazzle the eyes.
Only 20 painted churches exist, and all of them are located within the bucolic rolling hills of Texas Hill Country. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, these churches were created painstakingly by thousands of immigrants. The Germans who founded Fredericksburg, for instance, were lured to this Wild West land by an enterprising group of German entrepreneurs called the Adelsverein, or The Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas.
Fredericksburg, located roughly 65 miles northwest of San Antonio, was founded on May 8, 1926, joining other German settlements in the area like New Braunfels, and 120 German immigrants called the budding town home.
Baron Ottfried Hans von Meusebach made a historic treaty with the Comanche Indians of the San Saba River in 1847, which, to this day, might be the only unbroken treaty made between settlers and Native Americans.
“They came to create a German village in the middle of Texas,” said Ernie Loeffler, president of the Fredericksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Everywhere you look, you can still see those German roots, which makes our community so unique.”
Among those German roots are the historic and unique-to-Texas Painted Churches of Texas. Although there are 20 known Painted Churches throughout Hill Country, here are five of the most memorable to get started.
1. St. Mary’s Catholic Church In Fredericksburg, Texas
St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Fredericksburg is actually two churches — the old “little” church and the “new” St. Mary’s. Built by the German settlers in 1846, the windows, the altar, the spires, and the pulpit are elaborately decorated with all the colors of heaven in faux finish artwork that speaks to the spiritual love the builders embued into the interior.
Every detail in the church means something. If you look at the stenciling on the ceiling, you’ll find 24 crosses: 12 representing the Old Testament and 12 representing the New Testament. The church has five exits, which harken to the five wounds Christ received on the cross.
“Everything in the church means something,” said Jim Chude, St. Mary tour guide. “Everything in the church is pointed up to heaven.”
The new church was constructed and completed in 1906 as the congregation grew, yet it retained its painted church interior with all the gilded art and symbolism.
A short guided tour is held after the 9 am and 11:15 am Mass every Sunday. Tours are also available by appointment by calling (830) 997-9523.
2. St. Mary’s Catholic Church In Praha, Texas
Along U.S. 90 in Praha, Texas, is another famous Painted Church that is also called St. Mary’s Church of the Assumption. With its soaring steeple and beautiful stone facade, the inside hides a grand Czech crystal chandelier and an arched ceiling painted in blue and greens with details of stenciled foliage and flowers. Three angels, clad in yellow, blue, and pink, surround a floating cross behind the hand-carved altar, and the white accents remind one of a Confirmation cake.
Built in 1895, the church has undergone many phases of renovations and restorations. In 2011, the shingle roof was replaced with a copper one, and in 2015, part of the St. Mary’s School was converted into a worship space for the Sunday liturgy.
Six famous and authenticated paintings created by Fr. Netardus, a pastor at St. Mary’s, parishioner Gene Mikulik, and Joann Ignaz Berger (1882-1901) hang in the sanctuary. Berger created three museum-quality paintings for the church, which were authenticated and certified by Dr. Antonio Loro of Houston for their historical value.
St. Mary’s Church of the Assumption tour information and visitor guidelines can be found here.
3. St. Mary Catholic Church Nativity Of The Blessed Virgin Mary In High Hill, Texas
Built in 1906, the St. Mary Catholic Church Nativity of the Blessed Mary is an imposing structure of red brick, but inside the church glows with gold ceilings, marbleized columns, decorative foliage creeping up arches, and an altar topped by a Lamb of God portrait. The stained-glass windows are worth a study, making this particular church the “Queen of the Painted Churches” on the Schulenburg Painted Churches of Texas tour. It is visited by hundreds of visitors every year.
The first St. Mary church in High Hill was built in 1869, and eventually, a larger church was constructed on the site. The famous stained-glass windows were donated by the people of the parish, and these original stained-glass windows were moved to the new and larger building, which was constructed in 1906 and painted in 1912.
4. Saints Cyril And Methodius Catholic Church In Dubina, Texas
The original Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church was destroyed by a hurricane, and the elaborate structure was rebuilt by famed architect Leo Dielmann. Shockingly, the gilded building was whitewashed in the 1950s, but in the 1980s, the community came together to restore the original stencils and designs.
Those designs are awe-inspiring. A mural of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane adorns the walls over the altar, and the ceiling is an ocean-blue color dotted with stars of white that hint what heaven’s skies must look like.
The same iron cross that graced the steeple of its predecessor sits proudly atop the roof of the church as well.
5. St. John The Baptist Church In Ammannsville, Texas
This tiny little ghost town in Texas may be a relic of bygone days, but its painted church still attracts visitors. The St. John the Baptist Church is located in Ammannsville, which was founded by Austrian Andrew Ammann in 1870.
Now under the umbrella of the Catholic Diocese of Victoria in Texas, St. John the Baptist Church was built in 1917 and includes the elaborate paint job common among all the Painted Churches of Texas. Its domed and arched ceiling is washed in pink and the stained glass windows are still wowing visitors to this day.
The paintings inside the church were done by famous San Antonio artist Fred Donecker, and the church is open for tours through the Schulenburg Painted Churches of Texas tour.
All but one of these churches are still active, and none allow visitors or tours during services. If you visit on a Sunday, wait until after the services to visit or pick another day to visit.
Many of the cities’ visitor centers also have information about or offer tours of the Painted Churches in their towns. It’s best to call the visitor center at least two weeks in advance if you’d like to schedule a tour. For more Hill Country inspiration, consider