THE WORKs OF ART in the work of the church

a seminar-retreat in orvieto

january 15-27, 2020

Detail of the ceiling frescos in the Chapel of San Brizio, the Duomo in Orvieto (photo credit Gianna Scavo)

Detail of the ceiling frescos in the Chapel of San Brizio, the Duomo in Orvieto (photo credit Gianna Scavo)


For many centuries of Christian history, the arts were put to work in the life of Christian communities in more places and in more ways than most of us nowadays can imagine. We will experience dozens of works of art, still in their intended settings, that were designed to inform and inspire a long list of the fundamental practices of our life of faith in Christ: preaching … meditative reading of Scripture … teaching and catechizing … contemplative prayer … missional service to the needy … keeping the Church Year … celebrating the sacraments and significant life experiences of family and community … remembering the saintly heroes and heroines of the faith … gathering together in accountable communities … evangelizing … studying the great books … singing! … dining as a community.

But what about us and our time? The underlying purpose of this discussion-rich seminar is to explore together how we can “put art back in its place” in our own practices as Christian believers.

During this long period of European Christianity, not only churches but hospitals, orphanages, confraternity clubhouses and guild halls, baptisteries and bell towers, dining halls and chapter houses and cloisters in monasteries, the private chapels of the wealthy class, town halls and civic fountains and public squares, were all places of purposeful decoration and design.  No sphere of religious and civic life was alien to the desire for imagery able to instruct, to prompt memory, and to inspire the community to action (the three terms most commonly used to identify the value of art).

Still under the influence of two centuries of Romantic modernism, most folk in contemporary society (including church folk) associate artworks first of all with the artists who made them, and, trained by the experience of art in galleries and museums, typically appreciate artworks with a disengaged art-for-art’s-sake aesthetic eye.

A growing number of thoughtful Christians are calling for a renewal of a visual art — skillfully crafted for particular places — designed not just to look at appreciatively but to assist us in doing the various practices of our life of faith, whether praying our way through the church year or catechizing the children in our church or volunteering at the local women’s crisis center.

COST (not including airfare): $2,000 per person in shared double rooms.
A non-refundable deposit of $500 is due by October 15th, with the remaining $1,500 paid by November 15th.


Mid-day pranzo and evening cena prepared by the program chef, Maria Battistini, with picnic lunches on excursion days. (Sunday lunch is on your own so that you can sample a couple of the fine local restaurants.)
Three day-long excursions to Siena and Monte Oliveto monastery, Florence, and Assisi and Montefalco (subject to adjustment).


Participants will sojourn in the thirteenth-century (fully renovated) monastery of the Servite order, leased by Gordon College. The nine double rooms in the residential wing come with private baths. The library-classroom is bright and airy. The sitting room is a comfy area for late-night conversation. Our private chef Maria takes pride in presenting the best of Umbrian cuisine. Student and faculty artworks everywhere establish the ambiance. The refectory has its own student-created Last Supper. WiFi internet access is available (when necessary).
(The photographs below were taken in winter. Credits: Madeline Linnell, Kimberly Spragg, Daniel Nystedt)

ARE YOU READY? For further information, contact the leader of the Seminar, Dr. John Skillen, at:
(Learn more about Dr. Skillen by clicking on the "ABOUT THE DIRECTOR" tab at the top of this page.)

Timothy Verdon’s Art & Prayer; John Skillen’s Putting Art (back) in its Place; selected chapters from Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Art ReThought.

(Photography credits to Gianna Scavo, Dan Nystedt, Kimberly Spragg, Madeline Linnell, John Skillen)