Catholic Sacred Wood Sculpture

Saint Dymphna


This life-size statue of Saint Dymphna is my latest commission

She was a 7th century Irish martyr saint.

I carved her in tropical cedar. Father Mark O’Donnell commissioned this statue for Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church in New London Connecticut.

Watch the video

in which I describe the life of the saint and the process of carving the statue

A life-size statue of Saint Dymphna, patron of mental illness, carved in tropical cedar by A.VonnHartung for St. Joseph Church in New London Connecticut
Saint Dymphna

How did this statue of Saint Dymphna come about?

Excerpts of a Message to his parishioners from Father Mark O’Donnell,

Pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church


St. Dymphna, a saint for the ages

When I first arrived at St. Joseph Parish almost 10 years ago, I was approached by three parishioners who asked me, “Father who is the patron saint for those afflicted with nervous, mental and emotional illness?” Without pausing I said, “Saint Dymphna”. After I told them about her story, they told me that they would love to have a statue of her in the sanctuary because every family has been affected by mental and emotional illness. I said I would try to get a statue of her so that we could pray for her intercession and for healing for all those who suffer.

Well, it is almost 10 years later and the need for St. Dymphna’s help could not be more urgent in the world we live in. The pandemic with Covid 19 has mentally and emotionally taken a toll on everyone’s health and well-being. It has tragically taken too many lives through the disease itself, and the lives of those who are addicted to drugs and through some who desperately turned to suicide because they felt isolated and dehumanized.

When Neil Hartung, a wonderful parishioner, died unexpectedly on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 2019, I met his brother Vonn Hartung who is a renowned artist in Puerto Rico. Neil always spoke fondly of his brother and with fraternal love. I spoke with Vonn and proposed he begin to do some research on the history of this great saint. He became enthralled with her courageous life and martyrdom. In every detail he researched her life and we agreed that a statue was indeed needed here in New London for everyone to pray for her intercession. I started to share this news with the people that originally approached me 10 years ago and they were completely on board. Slowly the word has spread that St. Dymphna was being created for St. Joseph Church in the St. Brendan the Navigator Catholic Community.

I commissioned Vonn Hartung to artistically bring this great saint to life.

He started with tropical cedar and glued the wood together in a solid block. Slowly he has been carving and forming the block of wood into a five-foot statue of St. Dymphna… we give thanks to God for this wonderful saint for the ages, especially for today. We hope St. Dymphna will arrive by September first of this year…Fr. Mark

A closeup view of Saint Dymphna, the patron saint of mental illness, is a life-size statue carved in tropical cedar by A.VonnHartung for St. Joseph Church in New London Connecticut
Saint Dymphna_detail


Who was Saint Dymphna?

“According to Catholic and Orthodox tradition, Dymphna was born in Ireland in the 7th century. Her father Damon was a petty king, her mother a devout Christian.

When Dymphna was 14 years old, she consecrated herself to Christ and took a vow of chastity. Shortly thereafter, her mother died. Damon had loved his wife deeply, and in the aftermath of her death his mental health sharply deteriorated. Eventually the king’s counsellors pressed him to remarry. Damon agreed, but only on the condition that his bride would be as beautiful as his deceased wife. After searching fruitlessly, Damon began to desire his daughter because of her strong resemblance to her mother.

When Dymphna learned of her father’s intentions, she swore to uphold her vows and fled his court along with her confessor Father Gerebernus, two trusted servants, and the king’s fool. Together they sailed towards the continent, eventually landing in what is present-day Belgium, where they took refuge in the town of Geel.

Her father tracks her down!

One tradition states that once settled in Geel, Dymphna built a hospice for the poor and sick of the region. However, it was through her wealth that her father would eventually ascertain her whereabouts, as some of the coins used enabled her father to trace them to Belgium. Damon sent his agents to pursue his daughter and her companions. Upon discovery of their hiding place, he travelled to Geel to recover his daughter. He ordered his soldiers to kill Gerebernus and tried to force Dymphna to return with him to Ireland, but she resisted. Furious, Damon drew his sword and struck off his daughter’s head. She was said to have been 15 years old when she died.

 After Dymphna and Gerebernus died, the residents of Geel buried them in a nearby cave. Years later, they decided to move the remains to a more suitable location. Some of her remains are at the shrine to Dymphna in Massillon, Ohio, United States.

The most outstanding miracle is one that began in the thirteenth century and continues to this day.

 In 1349 a church honoring St. Dymphna was built in Geel. By 1480, so many pilgrims were coming from all over Europe, seeking treatment for psychiatric disorders that the church housing for them was expanded. Soon the sanctuary for those considered “mad” was again full to overflowing, and the townspeople began taking them into their own homes.

A 500-year tradition that is studied and admired today

 Thus began a tradition for the ongoing care of those with psychiatric conditions that has endured for over 500 years. Indeed it is still studied and admired today. Moreover, Geel’s inhabitants have continued to take patients into their homes. In fact, they call them boarders, never patients and treat them as ordinary and useful members of the town.  Correspondingly, the hosts treat them as members of their families. They work, most often in menial labor, and in return, they become part of the community. Some stay a few months, some for decades, and others for their entire lives. Eventually, at its peak in the 1930s, the town’s inhabitants housed over 4,000 ‘boarders’.”


St. Dymphna is the patron saint of mental illness and anxiety.

Her Feast Day is May 15


Prayer to Saint Dymphna

Lord, our God, you graciously chose St. Dymphna as patroness

of those afflicted with mental and nervous disorders.

She is thus an inspiration and a symbol of charity to the thousands who ask her intercession.
Please grant, Lord, through the prayers of this pure youthful martyr,

relief and consolation to all suffering such trials, and especially those for whom we pray.
  (Mention those for whom you wish to pray).

We beg you, Lord, to hear the prayers of St. Dymphna on our behalf.

Grant all those for whom we pray patience in their sufferings

and resignation to your divine will.

Please fill them with hope and grant them the relief and cure they so much desire.
We ask this through Christ our Lord who suffered agony in the garden. Amen


Saint Michael Archangel

St Michael Archangel

I carved this icon in American Linden wood. It is an interpretation influenced by the tradition of Eastern Orthodox Iconography.  Saint Michael the Archangel stares down the evil one who he has pinned with his staff.  I carved in the upper corners the two fallen angels as they shrink away in shame from His divine power.

“Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.”

READ MORE about the Prayer to Saint Michael

Buy a print of this carving


San Miguel arcángel

Esculpí este icono en madera de tilo americano. Es una interpretación influenciada por la tradición de la iconografía ortodoxa oriental. San Miguel Arcángel mira fijamente al maligno que ha inmovilizado con su bastón. Esculpí en las esquinas superiores a los dos ángeles caídos mientras se alejaban avergonzados de Su poder divino.

San Miguel Arcángel, defiéndenos en la lucha. Sé nuestro amparo contra la perversidad y acechanzas del demonio. Que Dios manifieste sobre él su poder, es nuestra humilde súplica. Y tú, oh Príncipe de la Milicia Celestial, con el poder que Dios te ha conferido, arroja al infierno a Satanás, y a los demás espíritus malignos que vagan por el mundo para la perdición de las almas. Amén.

LEER MAS sobre la Oración a San Miguel

St. Joseph, Protector

St. Joseph, Protector

 My most recent wood sculpture, carved through the period of the hurricanes Irma and MARIA. Approximately 3 feet high, carved in Tropical Cedar because of the desired color and its resistance to termites here in Puerto Rico. For Capilla Maria Auxiliadora, a small chapel in rural Carolina, Puerto Rico.

I’ve carved St. Joseph as a protector and a traveler; a stand-up guy who was always looking out for his wife and child, ready to defend them along the way of life which was full of dangers. He was a man of deep Faith who received his revelations through DREAMS: that Mary was the mother of God and that he should get out of Bethlehem and go to Egypt to escape the danger of Herod who wanted to kill the newborn King. Of course, we know he was a carpenter and must have been a wonderful father.

St. Joseph, Protector


Upcoming Classes by AVonnHartung

A.Vonn Hartung will be teaching two dynamic workshops this Summer (Woodcarving and Mosaics) at the Sacred Art Institute at St. Edmund’s Retreat on Enders Island in beautiful Mystic, Connecticut on Long Island Sound.

Aerial view of Enders Island, Mystic, Connecticut
Aerial view of Enders Island, Mystic, Connecticut

July 24-29: Woodcarving
July 30-Aug 6: Mosaics

If you can make it, to start a new hobby or to continue more advanced study, this class is for you!

Although St. Edmund’s is a Catholic Order, it is ecumenical in spirit and outreach and all are welcome! Hope to see you there!

One of the breathtaking views on this 11 acre island

“Described as a ‘little known gem’ this 11 acre island is surrounded by beautiful gardens framing breathtaking ocean vistas. Home to St. Edmund’s Retreat, there is a soulful tranquility to this place that seems to hang in the air with the ocean breezes. There are plenty of garden paths to walk and seaside benches to soak in the sun and saltwater air. It is a short trip into the picturesque coastal village of Stonington, CT., one of the last remaining authentic New England fishing villages…” (Assisi Institute)


St. John Apostle and Evangelist

In celebration of St. John Apostle and Evangelist

St. John Evangelist high relief wood sculpture by AVonnHartung for St. Paul's Catholic Church (Pensacola, Florida)
“St. John Evangelist” wood sculpture high relief by AVonnHartung for St. Paul’s Catholic Church (Pensacola, Florida)

Today is the Feast Day of St. John Apostle and Evangelist.

He is shown here with St. Mary whom he cared for after our Lord’s crucifixion (Jn 19:26, 27) at Ephesus in Turkey, the Isle of Patmos on the horizon where he was imprisoned and wrote Revelation.
He embraces his gospel to his heart bringing to mind the Cross and Passion of our Lord. Significantly, his crossed arms define the shape of a chalice (the sacred blood) and an hourglass. Indeed it reminds us that Christ is the Alpha and the Omega.

Above the saint flies the eagle, John’s symbol of vision and highest inspiration. Specifically, it carries away a serpent because according to legend, Emperor Domitian once spiked the saint’s wine with poison. Subsequently and miraculously it turned into a snake and slithered out of the cup.

High relief wood carvings of 6 saints by Vonn Hartung, in ambo at St. Paul's Catholic Church, Pensacola, Florida (photo by Steven Schloeder/Liturgical Environs PC)
High relief wood carvings of 6 saints by Vonn Hartung, in ambo at St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Pensacola, Florida
(photo by Steven Schloeder/Liturgical Environs PC)


This high relief wood sculpture, St. John Apostle and Evangelist is12-inches x 33-inches x 3-inches. It is one of six saints carved by A.Vonn Hartung. Pastor Doug Halsema commissioned them for the Ambo of St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Pensacola, Florida. Dr. Steven Schloeder of Liturgical Environs PC was the liturgical consultant.

The saints are all directed towards the center of the Ambo, as though they are again listening to and reliving the truth and reality of Christ Jesus, that because of them and through them the gift of the Holy Spirit continues to live in us in the Liturgy of the Word.


 En Español

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St. Luke the Evangelist

Today October 18th is the Feast Day of St. Luke the Evangelist, patron saint of physicians and artists. On this occasion I pay special homage to him with this wood sculpture.

St. Luke high relief wood sculpture by AVonnHartung for St. Paul's Catholic Church (Pensacola, Florida)
“St. Luke” wood sculpture high relief by AVonnHartung for St. Paul’s Catholic Church (Pensacola, Florida)

Artistically I have placed St. Luke the Evangelist in the center of his mission.  In addition I have conveyed, a feeling of the harmony brought to him through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Luke was St. Paul’s companion and biographer. Additionally he authored of Acts of the Apostles, a continuation of his gospel. By the style of his hair and garments I indicate his Syrian gentile origin of Greek lineage. I have juxtaposed Luke to the winged ox, symbol of sacrifice, patient servitude and strength.  Additionally, I have portrayed the Parable of the Sower from his gospel (Lk 8:4-9).

The tempestuous backdrop witnesses to his shipwreck with Paul (Acts 27:13-42) and the many trials and tribulations he experienced struggling to keep pace with him on his missionary journeys. Luke holds his written witness in a book (gospel) that looks much like we might perceive a paperback because of the dynamics of his perilous travels with Paul.

Luke “studied the life and words of Jesus with utmost care, knew and relied upon witnesses to the actual events–including Mary and St. John–and devoted some time to speaking with the women who had traveled with Jesus. The Gospel [of Luke] is thus especially notable for the respect and attention it pays to women in the Church, in contrast to the role of women both in Jewish and pagan society…Luke stresses the mercy of God, documenting the merciful acts of Christ…Luke also devoted much attention–more than his fellow evangelists–to the interior life of prayer…” (OSV’s Encyclopedia of Catholic History, by Matthew Bunson, D.Min.)

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St. Peter the Apostle

“…and so I tell you, Peter: you are a rock, and on this rock foundation I will build my church, and not even death will ever be able to overcome it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of heaven; what you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and what you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)

St. Peter high relief wood sculpture by AVonnHartung
“St. Peter” wood sculpture high relief by AVonnHartung for St. Paul’s Catholic Church (Pensacola, Florida)

Artistically I have tried through composition and subject matter to place St. Peter in the center of his mission. I have strived to impart a feeling of the harmony brought to him through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In his countenance as a man I show his strength and vulnerability as well as the dynamic quality of his inspiration.

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