02 April 2019

Tuesday 02 April -- 2019 Texas Painted Churches Day 2

L-R: Sydney, Sonny, Susan, Sue, Rita, Gwen, JoAnn, Ray,
Jeff, Carol, Anne, Kent, and our guide Wanda
Church of the Assumption of Mary, Praha
Although it was very cool -- mid 30s F -- when we first got up, it was an almost cloudless blue sky and warmed up nicely into the low 70s. It was perfect weather for our pilgrimage tour of the Painted Churches

Our hotel had a complementary breakfast bar in the lobby from 06:00-09:00. I got to bed late, woke up a couple of times and took a while to go back to sleep, and then slept best in those early-morning hours.... Anne woke me up about 08:00. I hurriedly got ready and we headed down to breakfast, including the requisite Texas-shaped Belgian Waffle.

Yeah! Texas!

Most of our party had already been there, but we visited with a couple.

I had sent out a text that Anne and I were heading for the Chamber of Commerce/Tourists' Center for 09:30, with the tour to begin at 10:00. We settled up with the Chamber and met our tour guide, the delightful Wanda, as our group assembled there. I purchased my usual coffee mug as well as a large map with an extensive description of the local churches and a DVD of a 2001 documentary about the Painted Churches. The Chamber made reservations for our lunch for 13:00 at Sirilo's Cafe (the other suggestion was the Oak Ridge Smokehouse which we'd had supper at last night), and we headed out pretty much dead on 10:00. We were three vehicles; Wanda rode with Anne and myself and one other of our number, Sydney; the nine others of our group distributed between two vehicles that followed us. We in the lead car therefore benefited from Wanda's running commentary on much else about Schulenburg besides the Painted Churches.

I had asked Wanda when I first met her in the Chamber of Commerce office if she minded if I a) recorded her on video, and b) if she minded if I posted some of that video on my blog. I was first introduced to her sense of humor when she responded she would have to pass it by her agent -- herself -- and that her agent had no problem with it. So I ended up recording quite a bit at each church. Generally I did a walk-through of the church, then captured Wanda's extended commentary as a separate video. That latter was so thorough regarding the history and information about both the churches and the communities that built them, their maintenance and restoration, and so forth, that my first inclination is not to write up an extensive description, but limit myself to impressions. Knowing me, I'll probably come back and put at least short written overviews to supplement Wanda's.

Our first stop was another Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina. At least, it was "another" for Anne and myself after yesterday's excursion to Shiner's Sts. Cyril and Methodius. But our self-guided walk-through in Shiner would not have been possible here; the priest who has charge of the Dubina church keeps it locked to all except guided tours. Drop-ins can walk into the foyer, and view the church through a large iron gate, but not walk around inside unsupervised.

Wanda began with a short overview outside the church.


Wanda's commentary inside Dubina Painted Church

These are small, very patriotic communities,
whose sons have paid the price for the 
freedoms we enjoy.

This is the view unsupervised "drop-in" 
tourists get of the interior of the church.

Each of the churches we visited had an impressively
large, well-attended cemetery associated with it.

It's much darker soil than Louisiana red clay.
Is that why they have bluebonnets and we don't?

Leaving Dubina, we went north to Ammansville, to St. John the Baptist Church.

There was a lady there tending several small flower
gardens on the grounds. There is obviously a lot
of community involvement in these churches -- even
though they are all "mission churches," which means 
they are serviced with maybe one Mass a weekend by a 
priest of a nearby parish.

1919 - The year the church was rebuilt, set into the steps
leading up to the main entrance. It is the third church. 
The original church was built in 1890 -- 
it was destroyed by a hurricane in 1909. 
A second church was built -- 
it burned to the ground within a few years. 
The third church is now one hundred years old.

It's called "The Pink Church." Guess why.


Wanda's commentary inside the Pink Church

Next, we doubled back down to Dubina and turned westward by the church, crossing the Navidad River ("NAVVY-dad," not "NAH-vee-dahd," Wanda informed us) via the Piano Plank Bridge, so called from the "plang-plang-plang" noise the planks made before they were nailed down in more recent years; all I heard was a very muted "plunk-plunk-plunk" as we crossed it [LINK]. Built in 1885, this one of the few remaining iron bridges in Fayette County, Texas, but it has connected Dubina and High Hill from the the days of horses and buggies to the days of modern automobiles.

Source [LINK]

 And so we came to our third church of the day St. Mary's Church at High Hill -- formally called "The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary" but universally just "St. Mary's High Hill" -- or just the "Queen of the Painted Churches." We were to tour it, then have lunch. Upon arrival, however, we found a large group from a vintage automobile club just entering the church for their tour. 

(Yes, there was a "Gift Shop" as can be seen here. Wanda
said they are always happy to welcome visitors. Except there
was no one there....)

Wanda quickly rearranged our schedule so we would not be impeded by that group, and we drove on back to Schulenburg and our lunch engagement a few minutes early.

Sirilo's accommodated us very well and we had a good meal. Anne and I shared a meatloaf platter then each got a slice of pie -- mine was Dutch Apple Pie a la mode. Then we headed back out, retracing our way to St. Mary's in High Hill. We found a second group of vintage automobile owners just finishing up their tour, but after waiting just a few minutes we finally got in.

You learn something new every day.
Originating at St. Mary's, High Hill, German-Americans
had their own fraternal insurance company similar
to the Knights of Columbus. It eventually became
the Catholic Life Insurance Company [LINK].


Wanda's commentary at St. Mary's, High Hill

Leaving High Hill, we headed out for our longest drive of the day, several miles west of Schulenburg to Praha and the Church of the Assumption of St. Mary. Along the way, Wanda pointed out a bank of mixed bluebonnets, paintbrush, and other wildflowers, and we pulled off the road for a few minutes to get some pictures.

In Praha, Wanda described the extensive renovation to the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (St. Mary's, Praha) that was recently done over the course of several years, but which left the entire ceiling of the church in its original condition, to still-stunning effect. Another, much smaller group (two people and a guide) were there at the same time, but that was no problem -- in fact the other tour guide shared a full list of all the Painted Churches with me and also took the group picture that is at the top of this page so it could include all of us and Wanda our guide.

Wanda's comments outside St. Mary's in Praha


Wanda's commentary

Some among our group commented they'd never
seen such a presentation of Our Lord, just taken from 
the Cross; Anne and I had -- it was a common feature 
in the Mexican churches we visited in 2016 [LINK], 
e.g. the fifth picture here [LINK].


It was a long day -- we were getting back to the Chamber of Commerce about 17:00,* where those who had ridden-along had left their vehicles, and where we bid Wanda adieu. I don't think we could have had a better guide. At one point, she asked if we had requested a Catholic guide -- which she was, a convert of about nine years. I confessed I didn't even know we could have done. There are only four of (I think) more than a dozen guides in total who are Catholic, so the odds were against us -- and yet we got her. So it worked out very well. This being, for us, as much a pilgrimage as a sightseeing tour, I know some of us took a few moments to pray at each church, and Wanda understood that. She made the day truly special.

There was talk of some of us returning to St. Rose of Lima Church for Mass again at 18:00, but after such a long and tiring albeit fulfilling day we all just ended up resting a while before meeting back in the lobby about 18:45 to decide where to go eat. It turns out our choices were pretty slim -- just fast food, a couple of Tex-Mex places, or the Oak Ridge Smokehouse again. I guess that's a sign of a small town. Schulenburg is posted with a population of 2,850, which must not be enough to support more than a handful of ongoing restaurants. We opted for Tex-Mex, a restaurant within easy walking distance of our hotel -- Taco Rodeo. We were the only ones in there; there was just one waitress and one cook; and it was therefore slow. But it was good and we all enjoyed ourselves.

We finally dispersed back to our hotels, pretty much saying our goodbyes tonight because we may well not cross paths in the morning as we depart the hotel and Schulenburg itself going our separate ways. Some are returning directly to Natchitoches tomorrow -- as are Anne and myself -- others are making a longer trip of it going to Houston or Dallas along the way.

+ + +

*Which, incidentally, scotched any idea of heading to the Shiner Brewery. Some may try it tomorrow, but Anne and I need to get back to Natchitoches. Maybe next time!

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