While these Czech and German towns were becoming defined by these unique churches as a reflection of their cultures, they were also being shaped by the hands of a few gifted local architects and artisans as well. Two of these churches were designed by the San Antonio architect Leo Dielmann, the son of German immigrants who received his formal training in architecture in Germany.
While the Catholic Church had encouraged the design of churches in Texas to be built within the Mediterranean or Mission style, these communities rejected this, and upon his return, Dielmann brought with him a neo-gothic expression that fit so well to these Bohemian and Moravian cultures. While they longed to recapture the spirit of place in their homeland, they were also built by local craftsmen with the materials at hand, limestone and brick, and wood for the vaulting and carved ornament.
The elaborately painted interior that these chapels have become renowned for, were the work of local artisans as well. Artists like Gottfried Flury, Fred Doneker, and Ferdinand Stockert and Hermann Kern – another pair of immigrant artists who were based in San Antonio, provided the realization of the Heaven on earth in the interiors of the churches.
Two of these churches in particular that realize the work of Dielmann and the team of Stokert and Kern are those in Dubina and High Hill.
Dubina is known as the “Mother of Czechs in Texas” and its’ Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church is the jewel in her crown. This burgeoning town had grown to more than 600 families, but a hurricane in 1909 destroyed their wooden church and a new neo-gothic inspired church was built to take its place by 1912. While in some ways the most simple of the painted churches in the area, the interior with its beautiful sky-blue ceilings complete with more than 3,000 white gold-leafed stars continue to give parishioners a feeling of being close to heaven.
Framed by numerous stencils and frescoes, a stunning mural depicts the Garden of Gethsemane in the sanctuary behind the steepled high altar, all lit by the tall windows along the nave.
High Hill’s Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is known as the “Queen of the Painted Churches”. This red brick, gothic revival church, built in 1908, reflects Dielmanns early skilled understanding of gothic proportion and rhythm in its massing and detail. Its wood interior has an elaborate altar, a chandelier, a pipe organ, Stations of the Cross imported from Italy and a painted reproduction of Michelangelo’s “Pieta.” The apse glows in periwinkle blue, accented with gold leaf, while the ceiling decorative painting creates the illusion of gothic groin vaulting.
Localized detail fills the tromp l’oeil effects in the faux marbling that was painted with turkey feathers. Intricately detailed, German stained-glass windows fill the nave with dappled colors and light in the afternoon sun.
As seen in the Holy Spirit in the testor above the ambo in High Hill, these details are shaped by the hand of man through the local designers, craftsmen and artisans, and these churches provide an inspiration in both faith and in our desire to create a well built, lasting place within the land.
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