St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Umbarger, Texas has an annual German Sausage Festival. Each November on the second Sunday, people shuffle through the doors of the parish hall to partake in homemade sausage, sauerkraut and bread made by the locals. It’s a family-style dining experience with lots of room for exactly what you want on your plate! (I requested extra kraut, while the men had dibs on the sausage!) Patrons also line up outside for their take-out line; kids enjoy the playground and everyone is encouraged to make bids on silent auction items or take home fresh goods at the bake sale.
One of the most popular things to do after eating is to check out the chapel. German Catholics settled in Umbarger in 1902, bringing religion and families to the small town. St. Mary’s Parish was established in 1910 and the church was built in 1929. At that time, it had plain white walls, frosted glass windows and a red floor. In 1945, the inside of the church was beautifully hand painted by Italian prisoners of war, held in a camp in the nearby town of Hereford.
Approximately 10 men painted the sanctuary in a matter of 6 weeks.
A few years ago my husband had the opportunity to work on the restoration project at this church. Although not a trained fine artist, Matt was suggested for the restoration team by our artist friend who thought he would do a good job. And of course he did, because he is excessively meticulous!
All of the paint was matched to the original colors used by the POW’s, and EVERY pain-staking stroke was to be copied EXACTLY as it’s original. (Flaws, crooked lines and all!)
Some photos Matt took documented his progress as new layers were painted:
When I first saw this from afar, I thought it was wallpaper!
The stations of the cross were painted and restored by our friend Chriss, who was in charge of this undertaking. I believe the process took close to two years!
The original artists incorporated local townspeople and landmarks into the sanctuary murals. The painting on the west side of the sanctuary portrays the Annunciation and on the east side symbolizes the Visitation. In the background of both murals are scenes that the artists saw when they were standing outside of the Church facing north, taking a break and resting their eyes. In the Visitation, the Meinrad Hollenstein homestead is represented with a green pasture, two symmetrical stands of ripe grain and a cluster of farm buildings and trees. In the background of the Annunciation, slightly beneath the radiant dove that hovers over the meeting of Mary and the angel is the Otto Skarke homestead with its sheds and weeping willow trees.
One POW that helped paint the Assumption used his wife for Mary’s face and his daughter for one of the angels. Apparently the man’s daughter (or was it great grand-daughter?) came to visit the church years later, and she gasped when she saw the painting of Mary, as she recognized it to be her mother (or grandmother)! Another artist invited two local school girls to be models for the young angels on the semi-arch above the altar. The artist sat on the table in the basement and had the girls sit on a bench with their heads turned towards each other so he could sketch their profiles.
The Italian men also installed twelve stained-glass windows, which were donated by various parishioners. These windows came all the way from Wisconsin by rail. As payment for their work, the Altar Society women and their daughters would prepare the noon day meal in the rectory each day and serve the prisoners at a long wooden table Father Krukkert had set up in the basement of the Church.
If you happen to drive through Umbarger, stop for a visit to this church. The rich history and stories told by locals is a treat!
Umbarger has a population of approximately 350 people. It is located along Hwy 60, 30 minutes SW of Amarillo.
Here are a few sites if you want to visit the area: