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Destination Texas: The Painted Churches of Fayette County

Destination Texas

SCHULENBERG, Texas (KXAN) — Some of the most beautiful spots in the state of Texas are tucked away in the middle of nowhere.

Known as the Painted Churches of Fayette County, these Catholic churches near Schulenberg are the faith-based masterpieces of German, Austrian and Czech immigrants to the area. The unofficial “Queen of the Painted Churches” is the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in High Hill, Texas. The third church building on this spot, this incarnation dates from 1910. 

“I love to stand in the doorway and hear people gasp. It is simply gorgeous. It’s in pristine condition,” said tour guide Sharon Rankin. “The windows came from Munich, Germany. They have all different designs in them: crosses, hearts.”

  • Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in High Hill,Texas (KXAN Photo/Ben Friberg)
  • Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in High Hill,Texas (KXAN Photo/Ben Friberg)
  • Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in High Hill,Texas (KXAN Photo/Ben Friberg)
  • Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in High Hill,Texas (KXAN Photo/Ben Friberg)
  • Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in High Hill,Texas (KXAN Photo/Ben Friberg)
  • Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in High Hill,Texas (KXAN Photo/Ben Friberg)
  • Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in High Hill,Texas (KXAN Photo/Ben Friberg)
  • Tour guide Sharon Ranking at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in High Hill,Texas (KXAN Photo/Ben Friberg)
  • Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in High Hill,Texas (KXAN Photo/Ben Friberg)

The exquisite craftsmanship makes people feel as if they’ve been transported to Rome or some fairy tale palace far, far away from the rolling prairies of Fayette County. 

“The people that came here were looking for a new life. They came from Austria, from Germany,” Rankin said. The faithful spared no expense. “The ceiling is tongue-and-groove wood beneath it and all of the designs that they’ve painted have 24-karat gold in them.”

Many of the beautiful icons were created by artists all around the U.S. and shipped here. But one thing the parishioners couldn’t get — real marble columns. So they used some good ol’ Germanic ingenuity and painted up wooden columns to look like marble using, of all things, turkey feathers. 

“We have a beautiful organ that is upstairs,” Rankin says pointing to a 1909 piece built in Delaware. It was restored to perfection recently through a $100,000 donation from descendants of the original parishioners.

Roots run deep out here. It’s that sense of community that keeps Rankin rooted here as well. Even during this time when fear abounds, she can’t keep away.

“My daughters, they don’t want me to do tours anymore because they’re afraid,” she said. “I am of the age where my group goes first and they said ‘please, mother, don’t do the tours anymore.’ And I’m struggling because it brings me so much peace to bring people here to see how wonderful it is to live in God’s country.”

But she’ll continue for now — the blessings of watching people falling in love with the churches and the peace she finds within its walls far outweighing the uncertainties of the current moment.

If you’d like to tour the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary church and the other painted churches in the area, check out the Schulenberg Chamber of Commerce website for information.

  • St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammansville, Texas (KXAN Photo/Ben Friberg)
  • St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammansville, Texas (KXAN Photo/Ben Friberg)
  • St. Mary's Catholic Church in Praha, Texas (KXAN Photo/Ben Friberg)
  • St. Mary's Catholic Church in Praha, Texas (KXAN Photo/Ben Friberg)
  • St. Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina, Texas (KXAN Photo/Ben Friberg)

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