About St. Mary Catholic Church (High Hill)
This gallery contains images from St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill, one of the Painted Churches of Texas.
The Nativity of Mary, Blessed Virgin (St. Mary's) Church, designed by San Antonio architect Leo M. J. Dielmann and built by Frank Bohlmann of Schulenburg, is the most prominent structure in the rural community of High Hill . This well-crafted example of Gothic Revival architecture was constructed in 1906 of red brick laid on a concrete foundation scored to resemble an ashlar watertable. The church is rectangular in plan, and has buttresses and a polygonal apse flanked by rectangular sacristies. A square tower with octagonly spire is sited at the front entrance. The slate roof is gabled, and two projecting gable wings mark both side entrances. The lancet windows range from simple narrow ones to broader windows with a configuration of stained lancet and circular windows. All of the window and door openings are accented with brick hood molds, keystones, ashlar stone sills. Stone ashlar also serves as an accent on the buttress weatherings, and for the string courses of the tower. Arcaded corbel tables provide additional embellishment for the gable on the entry wall for the bell tower, and for the side entry pavilions. Both apse and side walls feature corbeled brick cornices.
The interior shows one of the most elaborate and sophisticated uses of decorative painting found in Texas churches. This painting is rich in color and imagery, and outstanding in craftsmanship. All of the ceilings, walls, and columns in the major spaces are extensively painted in many colors. These are primarily sky blue, off-white, green, and ochre. The nave is separated from two side aisles by octagonal columns skillfully marbled in colors of burnished ochre, (with red and black highlights) on a gray-green marbled base, Corinthian capitals highlighted with metallic gold crown the columns. An elaborate system of groin vaulting provides the surface for the more profuse paintings. The vaults, molded diagonal ribs, and ridge bands are all outlined in metallic gold against a blue and off-white background. Framed by these bands are a combination of Greek and religious motifs, as well as those of the Arts and Crafts. Stylized flowering vines reminiscent of the patterns of 19th-century designer William Morris, intertwine along the bands, and along the floral and geometric borders. At the tops of the vault where the ridge bands intersect, there is an infill of gold, blue, and red medallions from which hang gold globular pendants. Spaced along the ceilings of the side aisles are stylized religious motifs. The spandrel above the apse is the focal point, and features the Lamb of God set in a quatrefoil flanked by kneeling angels, executed in light brown against a cloud background. The inside walls of the apse are painted much as the ceilings are. The curving vines, however, are painted in metallic gold instead of green, and the vivid blue background lightens from the top of the apse down.
As St. Mary's position in the landscape indicates, it is the central focus of the community of High Hill. It is the third building to be built on the original nine acres deeded to the church in 1868, and is partly constructed of materials from the second building. The first church was founded by German Catholic settlers who had arrived in 1844, and by the Moravian Czech settlers of 1860. It was a log structure with a brick foundation and clapboard siding. A larger and more elaborate church building, also of wooden construction, was constructed i n 1875. In 1906, the present structure was built to replace the second building, and the 18 stained-glass windows purchased between 1884 and 1889 were used in the third building. Leo M. J. Dielmann of San Antonio was the architect for St. Mary's and Frank Bohlmann of Schulenburg was the builder. With its fine mortar joints and restrained detailing, the church exhibits outstanding brickwork. A Mr. Heidenwelder served as chief brick mason. St. Mary's is a well-crafted example of the Gothic Revival Style, and displays not only late Victorian aesthetics, but the European background of the German and Czech/Moravian settlers as well. The extensively painted interior is unexpectedly elaborate and among the most sophisticated examples of such work in the state. Two San Antonio painters, Ferdinand Stockert and Hermann Kern, executed the painting in 1912. The ceilings and walls combine freehand painting and stencilling in a variety of colors and patterns, while the wooden columns provide an excellent example of skillful marbling.
Kennedy, C., Butler, L. F., & McCann, M. (1983). Churches in Texas with Decorative Interior Painting (National Register of Historic Places Thematic Nomination) (pp. 18-20) (United States, Texas Historical Commission).
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