For rural Southern women in the 19th century, the church served not only as a place of worship but as a social center and as a repository of custom and culture. Driving through the countryside between here and Houston last week , my husband and I (after a stop in Luling to eat world- famous barbecue) stopped to visit three of Texas’ exquisitely-painted churches and of course my writer’s imagination immediately took over. I could almost hear the talk and quiet laughter of the Czech and German women who immigrated here in the mid 1800’s, bringing their faith and families with them. I can imagine that an intense longing for everything they left behind prompted these farming folks to build beautiful churches that reminded them of their homelands. We stopped first at St Mary’s Church, Praha ( the Czech word for “Prague”) in Flatonia to admire the gorgeous wooden vaulted ceiling painted by Swiss-born artist Gottfried Flury. The tongue-and groove ceiling is painted a dusty blue, with golden angels surveying a pastoral scene. Amazing that the original 1895 mural retains its beauty despite never having been repainted. These pictures don’t do it justice. At High Hill we stopped at their church, also called St. Mary’s. History has it that in this church, distinguished by beautiful marbleized columns and stained glass windows, the parishioners followed the old country custom of seating women on the left and men on the right. On the day we visited, prayer cards written in Czech graced the polished pews. We continued on to Ammansville to the church of St. John the Baptist. Like St Mary’s Praha, this church is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Its simple white exterior reminded me of the small country church I attended as a child. Like the others, this church contains beautiful statuary, an elaborately-painted ceiling, and stained glass windows. I couldn’t help but think of the generations of women who must have met, like my fictional Hickory Ridge ladies, to visit with each other and to worship. Though we have lived in Texas most of our lives, we had never before visited these beautiful reminders of our history. I wonder: what historical treasures are waiting to be discovered in your neck of the woods?
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