WESTPHALIA, Texas (KWTX) Nathan Wilde, 40 of Westphalia, captured a “hauntingly beautiful” photo of a clay statue of the Virgin Mary silhouetted against the flames moments before the 125-year-old Church of the Visitation collapsed as flames raced through the historic structure on Monday.
The photo shows the clay statue of the Virgin Mary silhouetted against a window moments before the burning church collapsed. The inset shows the statue as it appeared before the fire. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Wilde)
Wilde, a lifelong resident of Westphalia, who was baptized and later married at The Church of the Visitation, was dropping his two children off at a daycare Monday morning near the church when he learned the building was on fire.
“I went around the back side of the church…(and) I saw the statue of the Blessed Mother Mary standing there in the window inside,” he said.
“At that time the church was completely engulfed."
"I knew what it was. I knew it was the exact statue and what it was from growing up there,” he said.
“I knew it was the Blessed Mary standing there.
“Austin Bishop (Joe) Vasquez told us that the Blessed Mary would be watching over the church and watching over the people, and in my mind when I thought of the picture, that's what she was doing."
The photo he took with his cellphone was posted on the Austin Diocese’s Facebook page and has been shared more than 600 times.
Although some have questioned the photo's authenticity, the Diocese and a number of church members confirmed to KWTX Thursday that it’s genuine.
"There's no question in my mind because I know who took the picture and I've seen her there in that location many, many times,” said Falls County Constable Jerry Loden, a member of the church for 38 years.
"It doesn't surprise me that that picture exists and that's the way it looked just because of where we are and the significance of this historic place," he said.
Nancy Doskocil, 71, a lifelong church member, agreed.
"I would bet my life on that,” she said.
“That that is an authentic picture absolutely. The statue stood there for decades in that same spot.
"The picture is just so hauntingly beautiful and just to know what was about to happen, but it was definitely a true picture. I'll treasure that picture the rest of my life," she said.
Firefighters from across the area responded Monday morning to the church at 144 County Road 3000.
Flames overtook the sanctuary, and smoke from the fire could be seen from five miles away.
Residents were able to save the tabernacle, which houses the Blessed Sacrament, from the church as the fire burned, but little else was saved from what at one time, with its twin towers that could be seen for miles, was the largest wooden structure west of the Mississippi River, according to some sources.