The Painted Churches of Fayette County

For quite a while I have been keen to visit the legendary painted churches of Romania but it seems that in the meantime I will have to make do with the painted churches of Central Texas. My friends took me to visit a few of these gorgeous little treasures today and I am simply amazed at the beauty of the photo-gallery that has resulted. The Carpathians will have to work extremely hard to compete.

The European settlers who continued to arrive in Texas throughout the nineteenth century often brought their own individual styles of church architecture as well as their customs and cuisine. Those of Czech, Austrian or German origin in particular found themselves unable to reproduce the baroque marvels that they were used to in the old country and devised a unique and beautiful combination of simple wooden construction and exquisitely painted interiors. Most of them are Roman Catholic as the delightful pastel colours attest but the plain exteriors have a lot in common with Protestant churches of the same period. Indeed, one that I haven’t yet visited, St Paul’s at Serbin, is actually Lutheran but this does not appear to prevent it from having a gorgeous confection of an interior.

The dates of the painted churches of Fayette County straddle the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in a rather confusing way, with some claimed to be as early as 1865 and some as late as 1917. This may be because Texas was not always the most benign of hosts to the newcomers, sending storms and fires to destroy many of their earlier churches and leaving them to rebuild, sometimes several times. This cycle of destruction and re-building does not seem to have discouraged the settlers though; rather to have kept the artisans and artists in work and to have continued to refine their distinctive style.

Although congregations are small, the four churches that we visited around the town of Schulenberg retain a strong sense of community and purpose. Beautiful as they are, they are far from being museum pieces and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to visit and to photograph them.

Postscript: During another excursion on the following day my friends made a small detour so that I could pop in to the little Lutheran church at Serbin in neighbouring Lee County. It was built  by a group of settlers from a Slavic minority called the Wends. They had left nineteenth century Germany following religious differences amongst the members of the Protestant church and faced terrible hardships on their journey during which 73 of the original 588 died of cholera and other causes. Although their language and culture has almost died out in the intervening years, interest has been more recently re-kindled with the opening of a local museum and an annual festival. I will add the photographs to the next post.

Categories: North America

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