About St. Mary's Catholic Church (Fredericksburg)
Saint Mary's Catholic Church stands beside its 1861 predecessor, and is a dominant structure amid a complex of related parish buildings. This handsome Gothic Revival church was executed in rusticated limestone ashlar offset with dressed limestone, quarried nearby. Its bold rectangular plan features a projecting polygonal apse and a corner tower rising well above the roofline of the entrance facade. Buttresses, lancet doors, and windows with trefoil and quatrefoil motifs reinforce the Gothic theme, as do the steeply pitched roof, pinnacles, and parapet details of the tower.
Refined and sophisticated interior painting combining symbolic religious motifs with geometric detailing enhances the spacious interior. The painting is applied to the plastered walls and ceiling. Columns with foliate capitals divide the nave into three sections, with the vaulting of the larger center section rising higher than that of the flanking side sections. Geometric banding in rich hues of red, blue-green, and yellow-gold against a white background accentuates the vaulting as well as the reveals of the stained-glass windows. A stenciled chair rail encircles the nave and entrance foyer. It is done in brown, red, and blue-green, and is accented with metallic gold. Characteristically, the apse decoration is treated more elaborately than that of the rest of the interior. Depicted above the apse spandrel is an enthroned "Christ in Majesty" holding a sceptor and orb. This is superimposed on a geometric framework and flanked with the Latin words Ego Sum Panis Vitae, meaning "I am the bread of life." Two large murals which appear much like tapestries adorn the side walls of the apse. In contrast to the white walls and ceiling of the rest of the interior, the apse ceiling is painted blue-green. A geometric border design in blue-green, red, and metallic gold highlights the vault ribs.
Historic photographs show two different schemes of decoration which were used in earlier times. The earliest photograph, made about 1906, shows simpler geometric banding than now, and a very dark color on the walls of the apse. A later photo, about 1954, shows the present geometric banding, but a more elaborate diaper pattern applied to the walls of the apse and at least a portion of the nave. Church records reveal that in 1970 the interior was redecorated by the Dr. Oidtmann Studios, Inc., of New York, and then again in 1972 as part of the recent work of restoration. Unable to afford a complete restoration, some of the more elaborate painting was deleted, especially in the apse. The church organ, in the choir loft, features pipes that have been painted and stenciled. At the time of its purchase from a company in St, Louis the organ was one of only three such instruments known to exist in the state. Although today the interior of the church is more simply decorated than it once was, St. Mary's is noteworthy among the Texas painted churches.
Saint Mary's Church is a fine monument of the Gothic Revival style, and is Fredericksburg's most outstanding example. Furthermore, its interior is enriched with decorative painting which distinguishes it from other Gothic Revival churches in the state. Since its founding by German immigrants in the late 1840s, the church has played a major role in the religious, educational, and social lives of the community. The present structure reflects the prominence of the German culture in Fredericksburg. German settlers came to Fredericksburg in the spring of 1846, seeking favorable economic and agrarian opportunities. Soon after their arrival a Catholic group began gathering informally, and made plans for building a permanent church. A resident priest arrived in 1849 and was followed by a Catholic school teacher in 1856, Simple lumber and stone structures served these early activities. In 1861 a permanent stone building was begun. This building, standing today, housed the growing congregation for the next 43 years, until it was no longer large enough. San Antonio architect Leo M. J. Dielmann designed the present building, which is among the most prominent buildings architecturally in Fredericksburg. Its soaring spire can be seen from a great distance from the surrounding hills. Entries for "frescoeing" appear in the church records of 1906 and 1908, although no information about that early painting is available, except for one photograph. In 1936 this painting was modified significantly by a New York firm recorded in church documents as Dr. Oidtmann Studios, Inc. Young German artists are believed to have executed this work. Limitations of funds prevented a full restoration of the painting during the rehabilitatic work done in the 1970s. Some portions of the painting were deleted altogether, although enough significant stencil and mural work remains to convey a sense of decorative enrichment.
Kennedy, C., Butler, L. F., & McCann, M. (1983). Churches in Texas with Decorative Interior Painting (National Register of Historic Places Thematic Nomination) (pp. 25-27) (United States, Texas Historical Commission).