Painted Churches of Schulenburg

Schulenburg’s Painted Churches

This is more a “How-to” article than a “Been there, Done that” piece. I’ve been enjoying taking guests to the Painted Churches for a number of years, ever since I acquired the Joye Mobile party van in 2019.  Most people here in Central Texas are aware of the churches and have been told they should visit. So, I offer tours to the Painted Churches of Schulenburg.  

My sister called and wanted to know how to visit the churches with her friends. Coming from Seabrook, she didn’t necessarily want to come all the way to Huntsville to get on our  bus. Local ladies from here in Huntsville also wanted to know and they had access to their own buses. So here are the “dets” for anyone who needs to know.  

Yes, you can go on your own without a guide. There are maps available but not all the churches are unlocked, air conditioned or lit everyday, and they are scattered across the countryside of at least seven counties. So, if you want to help support the local economy, call the Schulenburg Chamber of Commerce. The charge for a local guide is $50 paid in advance, plus $18 per person paid when you arrive. More if you are doing six churches. Lunch is on your own. On my tours, I pay for all your expenses, plus your lunches, plus our own guide who gives you the “Rivers, Roads, and Railroads” tour about the towns on our way to Schulenburg.  

If you do it yourself, plan on making your reservations many days in advance. During April and May, the Chamber has more tours than they can handle. By summer, however, the chances of finding a docent are much better. After you have paid your $50 deposit, arrive at the Chamber on Main Street in Schulenburg, pay your fees, and pick up your docent. It is often one of the priests or a member of the congregation who is trained in the history of the churches. He or she will guide you from church to church then take you to one of the local restaurants for lunch before finishing up with one or two more churches. And please tip your guide when you drop him/her off at the chamber. So, that’s it. We caught sight of the bus from our local church in Schulenburg, so I know my directions helped.    

So, what on earth is a Painted Church? The Catholics, who arrived here in Texas from Poland, Czechoslovakia or the Balkan States of Central Europe during the 1880s, wanted to replicate the churches they had left behind. These churches in central Texas are not immense stone cathedrals fit for a Bishop. They are relatively small structures built by the settlers, seating a few hundred congregants in wooden pews. The walls and ceilings, however, are decorated in vivid colors of pink or blue or green with angels and stars and biblical quotations. Each church displays a dozen or more beautifully carved or sculpted figures of the Holy Family, angels, or saints sacred to that church. The ornate stained-glass windows are unique to each church with images and symbols portrayed in brilliant glowing glass. At the front of the church, altars rise in ascending spirals and are tipped with crosses and dotted with gold leaf. Some of the wood-carved altars were imported from Germany, others were lovingly crafted in San Antonio. The money and effort expended in building these churches, and rebuilding them when they burned down or were destroyed by hurricanes, must have been enormous, a true community effort. And the local communities continue to support the church by gathering for fried chicken dinners throughout the year.  

There are, according to our guide, Dennis, thirty-two of the painted churches in and around Schulenburg, Texas, most of them still in operation. They are popular settings for lovely weddings or solemn funerals. If you spend an eight-hour day just going from church to church, you can get to about six of them. Coming from Huntsville, with a two-hour trip, or from Seabrook with an equally long trip, four churches is about all it is possible to squeeze in. The churches are certainly worth a visit. There is no doubt that you will be awed and impressed whether you go on your own or with us at Historic Tours of Texas. But you definitely must go!

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