As the Easter holidays approach, many Christians think more about their faith and religious convictions. These thoughts dwell not only on the passion of Christ but also on more mundane things evolving three days before Easter. One such thought is oriented to the Last Supper itself, namely what Christ and his disciples ate and drunk on the final night before the crucifixion.

The Holy Bible is very quiet on this topic. We know there was bread on the table and also wine; we see it every day or every Sunday during the Eucharist, which is a sacrament established exactly on the Maundy Thursday.

But the menu certainly consisted of other dishes as well. In the last twenty centuries, many artists tried to make an image of the Last Supper, including the famous picture of Leonardo da Vinci, which is quite poor regarding the substances on the table.

Stone vessels and aromatised wine

It took modern research into the ancient gastronomy to recover the usual meals in Palestine during the life of Jesus Christ. He and his apostles were, of course, Jews, and they strictly adhered to the Jewish traditions of Passover (although the scholars do argue over the question if the Last Supper was indeed a Jewish Seder). According to the Biblical Archaeology org website, in ancient Jewish cuisine, it is very probable that Jesus and the apostles ate a bean stew, lamb, olives, bitter herbs, a fish sauce, unleavened bread, dates and aromatised wine.

They ate not around a table, as it is depicted in past and today, but sitting on cushions, much as it is preserved in Arabic culture today. All of these findings are accessible today by data and clues from the early Christian catacombs and ruins in Palestine.

On stone plates and vessels (used because they were not prone to impurity, which is very important according to the Jewish laws) were meals made under the Jewish religious dietary laws (kashrut).

A particular interest is given to wine. In Palestine viticulture is known to be a very old tradition. The Old Testament mentions wine numerous times, while the Gospels point to the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus miraculously transformed the water to wine. Another famous wine is present at the Last Supper itself, where it becomes the blood of Christ.

This wine is most probably the Dabouki grape, wine from Armenia, one of the oldest grape sorts in the region. Do not think of contemporary wine: this one was very spiced, infused with dried fruits, honey, curry, and pepper. Sometimes tree resins were added, like myrrh or frankincense, just like the famous Greek retsina today. The ancient wines were often mixed with mint, cedar, cinnamon and honey.

Remnants in the traditional Arab cuisine

From the Gospel of Mark, we know the Last Supper occurred on the first day of Unleavened Bread when they sacrificed the Passover Lamb“ (Mark, 14:12). Thus, the lamb was evidently present at the table. Unleavened bread was all around, as a remembrance of the Jewish exodus from Egypt.

As a side dish, beans, olives, and nuts were present, which continues to be part of the Middle Eastern cuisine right to the present day. But the taste was somewhat different. The beans were cooked slowly over low fire and a delicious stew was made, just as the Arabs do it today. Olives did not have only their bitter taste; they were blended with hyssop, a plant which has mint-like flavour. And bitter self-grown herbs, appreciated all over the Mediterranean today, have been mixed with dates and nuts.

Based on these findings, we can now recreate the whole Last Supper menu almost to the very details. As such, it is an interesting gastronomy story for the faithful and non-religious, although the Christians should focus more narrowly on the Last Supper as an event that introduced the Holy Eucharist and the Priesthood.