Texas History: Cross Hill of Castroville
“The sky seems nearer in Texas.” This old German saying was quoted by traveling newspaper correspondent Frederick Law Olmsted in his book titled, “A Journey through Texas: Or a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier.” Published in 1857, the book was a compilation of newspaper articles Olmsted wrote for publications back East.
In the mid 1850’s, Olmsted ventured into central Texas with pen and paper. As was his custom, he would listen, watch, and interview the people of the area, and write his impressions for his popular articles. He was especially impressed with the town of Castroville, in the heart of the Medina Valley.
After spending time with the locals, Olmsted wrote: “The Medina is the very ideal of purity. … Upon its banks stands Castroville — a village containing a colony of Alsatians (French settlers), who are proud to call themselves German, but who speak French, or a mixture of French and German. The cottages are scattered prettily and there are two churches — the whole aspect being as far from Texan as possible. It might sit for the portrait of one of the poorer villages of the upper Rhone valley.”
Twenty-five miles west of San Antonio, Castroville was founded in 1844 by Henri Castro. Castro was born in Landes, France in 1786. In 1842, Castro received an empresario contract from the Republic of Texas, with permission to bring settlers from France. He bought more land from John McMullen, and founded this unique town on the banks of the beautiful Medina River.
As the people arrived on September 12, 1844, the initial order of business was to have a celebration worship service led by Jean-Marie Odin, the first bishop of Texas. Within weeks, the citizens began to construct their first church, St. Louis Catholic Church. By 1853, they completed construction on their second church, Zion Lutheran Church.
In a bold statement of faith, the citizens of Castroville determined to follow the old European custom of proclaiming their faith in Christ by erecting a Cross in the most prominent place in the area. They all agreed that Mont Gentilz was the best choice, and it is now known as Cross Hill.
Over the years, many sacred functions have occurred on Cross Hill, and it remains a place of reflection, prayer, and community interaction. It is not uncommon to hear the words, “I’ll meet you at the Cross.”
The settlers of early Castroville left a powerful example that still speaks to us today. First, place the Cross in the center of your life. Then, lift it up as a testimony of your faith. Finally, meet at the Cross often.
My personal thoughts in poetry:
There is a place where love abides,
And hope replaces loss;
Come as you are, no need to hide,
And meet me at the Cross.
Meet me at the Cross today,
And bring your hurts and cares;
Then at the Cross your burdens lay,
And Christ will meet you there.
Friend, let’s meet at the Cross!