Your Teacher, Professor John Skillen

Learn in Class . . .

Learn On-Site . . .

Read Great Literature . . .

Enjoy Learning with Friends . . .

Go on Excursions . . .

Drink Some Really Good Coffee . . .

Delight Your Eyes . . .

View Astonishing Art . . .

Lots of Art . . .

Lots of Time . . .

Two-Week Student Program: June 18- July 2, 2018

gordon crestThe Orvieto Program partners with Gordon College’s Studio for Art, Faith and History to offer 20 classical students two weeks of study in the beautiful medieval city of Orvieto, Italy. The Orvieto Program is operated by Classical Academic Press and sponsored by the Society for Classical Learning.

Application Classically educated students in 9th–12th grade are welcome to apply. (Students must have completed at least the 8th grade.) You can fill out a brief online application here: Apply for the Orvieto Program

Registration and Payment The cost for the trip is $1,950, plus airfare. The $1,950 fee covers room and board, ground transportation, entrance to all museums, and food for the two-week duration. Airfare usually ranges from about $1,200 to $1,600. Once your application has been approved, we will send instructions on how to pay a deposit of $500 to officially register for the trip.

Payment dates will run as follows:
$500 deposit received within 2 weeks of acceptance into the program
$500 2nd deposit payment due by March 1
Total flight cost due by April 19- this will range anywhere from $1200-$1600 and will be communicated to the student and parent beforehand.
$950 final payment due by June 1
**SAVE $100 by applying in 2017!

Cancellation Policy If you cancel before April 1, 2018, you will receive a 75% refund of the first two deposits. No refund will be offered for cancellations after April 1, 2018.


Click Here for a Video Showing Images of Orvieto.


 John Skillen               

You Trip Leaders

Your trip leaders are Gordon College professor Dr. John Skillen, and art educator, Valerie McClymont. You can learn more about them here.

Staffing Gordon College provides administrative support and logistics.


Program Details

Tertullian’s question, asked around the year 200, remains as new as it is old: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” On what terms have educated Christians over the centuries allowed the classical and the Christian—the Greco-Roman and the Judeo-Christian intellectual heritages—to mix it up in the same classroom? No classical Christian academy can avoid articulating an apologia for Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics, to cite the subtitle of Louis Markos’s recent book, From Achilles to Christ. What is the Christian mind to make of the rich and sophisticated heritage of classical thought, literature, and culture, so full of useful tools of learning, so astute in its exploration and analysis of nature and history, of the human psyche and the polis, of human artistic endeavors . . . and yet falling short of a wisdom unto salvation? Dante’s Virgil can lead the pilgrim only so far. One thumbnail sketch might mark the Christian response to the classical heritage as unfolding in three phases:

  1. Keeping up a strong guard against being drawn back into the pagan culture in which we have been nurtured and from which we have been redeemed.
  2. Keeping in mind the inadequacies of the classical heritage but recognizing the value of various elements of it.
  3. Appreciating the consistencies to the degree of incorporating swathes of the classical heritage into a broader educational and cultural program intended to be thoroughly consonant with Christian faith and theology.

Yet these responses can, and almost always do, find expression in every generation of Christian believers, whether in reacting to Virgil’s Aeneid or Ovid’s Metamorphoses, or J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

The historic cliff-top town of Orvieto offers an inspirational setting to reflect on this theme. The town itself is an archeological-architectural palimpsest of the Etruscan, Roman, medieval, and Renaissance strata present everywhere in contemporary Orvieto. We will live and study in a beautiful, restored monastery, alternating days of study and reflection in Orvieto with excursions to sites evocative for the theme.

The classical is also notably integrated with the Christian in the decoration of the Orvieto Duomo. One of Europe’s great medieval cathedrals, the Duomo was admired in the Renaissance as unrivaled in its beauty by the noted humanist scholar-pope Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (Pius II) when he visited the city in 1463. The façade is divided by four enormous panels, carved in bas-relief in the 1320s with the themes of the Incarnation, from Creation to Final Judgment. Strikingly, a group of pagan philosophers and prophets, including Plato and Aristotle and the Sybil, are depicted at the base of the panel of prophetic scenes from the Old Testament.

Finally, one could hardly ask for a richer distillation of our theme than is found in the magnificent fresco cycle of the End Times, Last Things, and Last Judgment in the right transept of the Duomo. The San Brizio Chapel provides a point of reference both for the classical sources and for three stages of Christian response to the classical heritage: the Late Antique of St. Augustine and the other Doctors of the Church, the Medieval of Dante and Thomas Aquinas, and the Christian Humanism of the Renaissance.

Begun by the Dominican painter Fra Angelico, the frescoes were completed by Luca Signorelli in the early 1500s. In the decorative lower zone, Signorelli painted fictive windows framing great figures of classical thought and literature, including Virgil and Ovid. Around these portraits are scenes from their writings, deemed by Signorelli and his humanist advisors as suggestive parallels foreshadowing the scenes of Christian eschatology unfolding in the enormous murals above them. Dante—the poet who most astutely incorporated the classical heritage into an epic that reinterprets the Homeric and Virgilian “homecoming” stories in Christian terms—is welcomed into their company.

With Signorelli’s visual epic of the telos of humankind as our guide, the texts for the Seminar will include selections from classical writers such as Plato and Aristotle, Virgil, Ovid, and Cicero. Selections from Augustine’s Confessions and City of God, as well as from the writings of Jerome, Boethius, Benedict, and Pope Gregory, will provide touchstones for understanding how educated Christians at the end of the Roman epoch responded to the classical heritage out of which they had been converted. Selections from St. Thomas Aquinas and the Divine Comedy of Dante will open a window on the late-medieval appropriation of the classical sources. And selections from Boccaccio’s Genealogy of the Pagan Gods and Marsilio Ficino’s moral allegorizing of Venus and the Three Graces as a figure of God’s love will help us understand the more syncretistic response to the myths of ancient Greece by the humanist Platonists of the Florentine Renaissance—the circle that exercised strong influence on Signorelli.

As for excursions, we will hop on the train or into vans for trips [a] to Rome, especially to see several of the classical edifices turned to Christian use, and artworks such as Raphael’s frescoes covering the walls of Pope Julius’s library on the four great areas of learning—philosophy, theology, poetry, and law—where the dualism of the School of Athens is answered by the Trinitarian unity of the Disputà; [b] to the ancient Roman port of Ostia, where Augustine’s beloved mother Monica dies as the bishop returned to Africa; [c] to St. Benedict’s places of retreat from classical corruption, from which were born the monastic communities that became the seats of the new learning; and [d] to the town of Pienza, the hometown of the Piccolomini pope, Pius II, refurbished as an ideal Renaissance architectural model of the integration of the classical and the Christian.

Calendar for July 2018 Trip (Provisional)

Sunday                           Travel Day

Monday                          Arrival and Orientation

Tuesday                         Orvieto & Duomo

Wednesday                   Trip to Ostia

Thursday                       #1 classical tradition: dangerous threat; places of compatibility; synthesis

Friday                           Trip to Subiaco

Saturday                      #2 Jerome & Augustine: the tempting danger of the old ways

Sunday                        #3 Boethius, Benedict, Gregory: preserving, cleansing, and baptizing what can be adapted

Monday                      Trip to Monte Oliveto, Siena, and Pienza

Tuesday                      #4 Aquinas and Lorenzetti: converting the ethical tradition

Wednesday                #5 Dante part I: converting the narrative tradition

Thursday                   # 5 Dante part II: converting the narrative tradition

Friday                        Trip to Rome

Saturday                    #6 Petrarch, Boccaccio, Ficino: converting via the allegorical tradition

Sunday                      Trip to Bolsena

Monday                     Departure


Daily Schedule

For those days of topic-and-classroom focus, this is our basic rhythm (with approximate times):

  • 7:30 – 8:30 Informal breakfast time with cereals and fruit and juices available in the dining hall
  • 8:30 – 10:00 Getting outside to enjoy the morning, get the blood going to body and brain, and visit a particular place or two in town that has some relevance for the day’s topic
  • 10:00 – 12:00 A hearty 2-hour session that gets into the topic and readings at hand, with lecture and discussion
  • 12:30 – 1:30 Pranzo!
  • 1:30 – 4:00 Quiet free time where staying out of the heat matters, good for a nap, but time to do homework, relax in a shady park or sketch, play some soccer if the weather allows, go for a gelato after pranzo, enjoy and explore the town
  • 4:00 – 6:00 Our second 2-hour ‘academic’ session
  • 6:00 – 7:00 Another unwinding/switching-gears time, pleasant to join the evening passeggiata, go to Vespers with the Franciscan nuns — and the like.
  • 7:00 – 8:00 Supper!
  • 8:00 – 10:00 Homework reading, games, movies in house, or doing planned or unplanned activities in town (perhaps there’ll be a concert, and there’s a cinema in town, with the peculiar pleasure of watching American movies dubbed in Italian)

Excursion days will allow ‘educational’ talking and conversation on site, of course, but they are all full days, and will not allow for concentrated doses of quiet group learning and thinking together.

Readings As we consider the question, “What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens?” we will read excerpts from a variety of classical and Christian writers including Aristotle, Virgil, Tertullian, Clement, Jerome, Augustine, Benedict, Gregory, Boethius and Dante.  We will also read Dr. John Skillen’s book Putting Art (Back) in Its Place, which you can order from Amazon. Here are links to the book and and to two PDF files containing the readings:

Course Book: Putting Art (Back) in Its Place by Dr. John Skillen


Readings File 1 Jerusalem Athens explained

Readings File 2 Jerusalem Athens illustrated


Video Clips from the 2015 Student Trip

This is Orvieto…your new home town.

An an interview with Brandt and Nick, who both attended the 2015 trip.

Lunch time (pranzo) with great food prepared by the program’s Italian chef Maria!


Walking the lovely streets of Orvieto.


Morning class time with Professor Skillen.


At one of the student’s favorite places–the lakeside beach at Bolsena, just 30 minutes from Orvieto.


Live music on an early evening in Orvieto–a common event.


Professor Skillen teaching on-site in front of a famous painting–do you recognize it?


Yes, there are olive orchards in Italy–many of them.

Why study Latin?  Orvieto Trip student (from Regents School of Austin) makes a very good case!