About St. Mary's Catholic Church (Praha)

This gallery contains images from St. Mary's Catholic Church in Praha, one of the Painted Churches of Texas.

St. Mary's Church of the Assumption represents the Gothic Revival style of architecture as it was interpreted in rural 19th-century Texas. Among the older churches in the group chosen for nomination, its rectangular exterior is uncommon as it is built of rusticated sandstone ashlar. The outside church walls were stuccoed in 1930, leaving sharply contrasting buttresses, hood molds, and window sills of exposed stone. The entire front facade is also left unstuccoed. At the front entrance, a square tower with an octagonal spire rises above the steep, gabled roof. At the rear of the church where the nave and polygonal apse connect, occurs a much smaller octagonal spire or fleche. All window and door openings, with the exception of a wheel window above the main entrance, are narrow lancets of stained glass. The wooden doors have carved panels which resemble tracery.

The church interior is adorned with an unusual and sophisticated combination of decorative paintings. They exhibit freehand work, stencil applications, and infilling. Dividing the space into nave and side aisles are octagonal columns exhibiting white marbling with metallic gold speckles. The ceiling, constructed of a network of woodframe vaults with pointed arches, is sheathed in beaded boards painted to simulate the sky as a backdrop for the elaborate painting. A trompe I'oeil effect is produced by painted bands extending from the tops of the columns and pilasters up to the vaults. The appearance is of ribbed vaulting. Within each of the "ribbed" ceiling panels over the nave is a religious motif (star, heart, etc.) centered on a radiating yellow sunburst. Curvilinear motifs extend along the painted bands. Of particular interest are the vaults of the side aisles, above column height, where a profusion of painted plant life (possibly representing Paradise) appears to spill over the cornice. Freehand flora and fauna are depicted in hues of greens and blues among rose, white, and yellow blossoms. Although the kinds of plants are repeated, no two plant forms are identical. On the back wall of the apse, also above column height, is a mural of three winged angels, each wearing a robe of a different color (pink, pale blue, and ochre). The figures are portrayed with a large Latin cross in a traditional "Lamentation" pose. At the base of the mural are two faint churches, both of which exist i n Prague, Czechoslovakia, painted a slightly darker blue than the background. The partition walls separating the sacristy from the altar are stenciled in rinceau and festoon pattern, and are colored maroon and gray. This is a darker color scheme than that used in the remainder of the structure, and may respresent the work of a different painter.

Significance

St. Mary's Church of the Assumption in Praha is important because of its exterior construction in Gothic Revival style, and because of its unusual and skillful interior painting. Established in 1855 by Czech settlers, St. Mary's was the first Roman Catholic church between San Antonio and Houston. Since then it has played a major role in the social and cultural life of the community. Every August 15, a celebration is held of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, called Prazka Pout ("homecoming"). St. Mary's is the only Roman Catholic church in the country said to have such a custom. The present structure, with its rusticated stone and stuccoed walls, is the fourth structure built at this site, and was designed by architect O. Kramer and completed in 1895. The first three churches were frame, were built in 1865, 1866, and 1876, and are no longer extant. The beautiful interior of the present structure was painted soon after the building was completed, and retains its original appearance and integrity. The skillful use of freehand trompe I'oeil techniques with plant and architectural forms is rare, and a pleasing sense of lightness is achieved. The artist who did the ceiling work was Gottfried Flury, a native of Solothum, Switzerland. He immigrated to the United States in 1881, at the age of 17, and painted scenery in New York theaters before moving to San Antonio in 1891. In Texas he became known as a painter of church murals and frescoes. St. Mary's is one of the very few structures still standing that displays his work.

Source

Kennedy, C., Butler, L. F., & McCann, M. (1983). Churches in Texas with Decorative Interior Painting (National Register of Historic Places Thematic Nomination) (pp. 21-22) (United States, Texas Historical Commission).

Prints and Licensing

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