Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

St. John’s presents long-running dramatic version of “The Last Supper” March 30, 2023

St. John’s members portray the disciples in this undated vintage photo, the first record of a photograph from “The Last Supper Drama.” Actors, from left to right, are Luverne Hafemeyer, Earl Meese, Victor Luedke, Howard Meese, Virgil Bosshart, Arnold Keller, P.L. Golden, Alvin Bosshart, Paul Bauer, Elmer Covert Sr. and Arnold Bauer. (Photo courtesy of St. John’s)

FROM MILAN TO MINNESOTA, Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” painting continues to leave its imprint. For more than 500 years, this rendition of Jesus’ final meal with his 12 disciples has held a sacred place among those of the Christian faith, including me.

The parking lot at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is nearly full 20 minutes before the congregation’s annual performance of “The Last Supper Drama.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2011)

And in one small rural Minnesota church, the painting inspired a re-enactment which debuted in 1963 via a script penned by the then-pastor. Members of St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault, present an annual “Drama of the da Vinci Painting of the Lord’s Supper.” This year’s drama is set for 8 pm on April 2, Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.

Judas grips the bag of silver, his reward for betraying Christ. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2012)

I’ve attended this long-running monologue of each disciple and their relationship with Christ many times. Although the script and music remain the same, the actors change from year to year. Yet, there’s a consistency in that, too, with many of the men switching parts, perhaps taking a year off. I recognize actors’ surnames like Bauer, Keller, Little, Meyer, Wiegrefe and another Keller (Craig) always at the organ.

St. John’s 50th presentation of “The Last Supper Drama.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2012)

There’s a sameness to St. John’s presentation of “The Last Supper.” And that is comforting. The darkening of this 1800s limestone church. The mood-setting music. The disciples processing in to sit at a long table set before the altar. The statue-like poses. The spotlight focus on each disciple. The bold, sometimes heart-wrenching, monologues. The emotion. The pain. Then the spotlight shifting to the empty chair representing Christ.

Craig Keller has been the long-time drama organist, playing the same music every year. The script and music remain unchanged. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2012)

Even after seeing this drama many times, I pick up something I haven’t in prior viewings. I always exit the sanctuary feeling reflective, emotional, even a bit sad. The tone is set for the beginning of Holy Week, transitioning to Jesus’ crucifixion and then, on Easter, his joyful resurrection.

The sanctuary fills prior to the drama in 2012. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2012)

This tradition at St. John’s is part of this congregation’s history. Part of their faith heritage. And a gift to the greater community. To settle into a pew in this country church and watch the drama unfold is to appreciate da Vinci’s art in a way that touches the soul.

FYI: St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is located at 19086 Jacobs Avenue, rural Faribault. The drama will also be live-streamed on the church’s Facebook page.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


10 Responses to “St. John’s presents long-running dramatic version of “The Last Supper””

  1. I love it when churches do this production. Years ago a church we attended did it and it was so meaningful.

  2. beth Says:

    wow, this is amazing.

  3. I remember gathering for church and then sitting down to gather again for the Noon meal on Sundays. When I was little I did not fully understand the meaning of the Last Supper on one wall and Jesus Christ on the other wall in my Grandma’s kitchen. As I got older it started making sense and instilled the meaningfulness. I have not seen a production like this. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  4. Valerie Says:

    This looks like a wonderful event. Thanks for highlighting it.

  5. Sandra Says:

    Yes, thank you for highlighting this event, the camera person did good. The closeness of viewers to actors makes this a special setting. Connecting to the still poses moments adds to the emotional reach. Also the opening description of di Vinci and the painting sent me to google. Mother + 5 sisters received this painting as wedding gifts, ours now hangs over my piano. A special event addition to my Holy Week experiences, thank you!

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