GENEVA — St. Francis-St. Stephen School was overrun with knights, lords, ladies-in-waiting, monks, jesters and even a king as the school’s sixth-graders joined sixth-graders from St. John Bosco School in Seneca Falls March 21 for their annual Medieval Banquet.
Students portraying a monk, a bishop, a king, a queen, a princess and a lady-in-waiting sat at a head table on the stage in the school’s basement. Surrounding the stage were more tables filled with the other 19 sixth-graders, all dressed in medieval garb. The students chatted amongst themselves and sipped soup as classical music quietly played in the background.
When the students had finished their meals Mary Ann Bender, middle-school social studies and religion teacher at the Geneva school, stepped forward.
“The king is ready for his entertainment,” announced Bender, who was clad in a long white dress with a tall white princess hat perched atop her head. “He will start with the St. John Bosco Singers.”
After the St. John Bosco students lined up before the head table to perform a medieval-themed song, St. Francis-St. Stephen student Richard Beckett-Ansa — who was king for the day — rose and began clapping enthusiastically.
“King Richard is standing. You must have done a very good job,” Bender told the singers. “Now we will have our second course.”
At her words, representatives from each of the tables stood and made their way to the kitchen at the back of the room. They emerged carrying baskets of bread and, after serving the head table first, they brought the bread to their own tables.
After eating their bread, the St. Francis-St. Stephen students gathered in front of the head table and gave a dramatic recitation of a medieval poem about Robin Hood. The students had barely consumed their third course of cheese and fruit when Bender stepped forward once more.
“Are you ready for your jesters?” she asked. “Now, the king has searched far and wide to find the best entertainment for his lords and ladies, and we have jesters here from a different land to entertain.”
With that, the first jester — St. John Bosco student Jake DeBellis — stepped forward and began to entertain the “banquet hall” with his medieval-themed jokes.
“Do you know why they call it the Dark Ages?” he asked.
“Because there were a lot of knights,” he answered, to the delight of his fellow students.
The three jesters from St. Francis-St. Stephen School were up next to display their juggling, tumbling and joke-telling skills before the appreciative audience.
The remainder of the banquet followed a similar format, with several more courses of food — including chicken wings — punctuated by short bursts of entertainment.
The banquet has been an annual tradition at the Geneva school for almost 20 years, said Bender, who founded the event. Students from St. Mary School in Waterloo and St. Patrick School in Seneca Falls participated in the event until 2005, when the two schools merged to form St. John Bosco, which now carries on the tradition, said Mary Ann Kolo, St. John Bosco’s middle-school social-studies teacher.
In the weeks leading up to the banquet St. John Bosco students prepared for the event by learning about the medieval time period, choosing medieval names and designing coats of arms, Kolo said. Each student also chose a particular aspect of medieval life to research and give a presentation about, she added.
“Some chose to research a castle and make a model of it. Some of them researched and presented on medieval holidays and how they were celebrated. Two boys presented on the parts of a knight’s suit of armor,” Kolo said.
The preparation for the Medieval Banquet is very interdisciplinary, Bender added.
“In art class they make an actual project, whether it be a castle or a cathedral or a diorama of how a certain holiday was celebrated,” she said.
Students memorize medieval poems and read related stories in their English language-arts classes, and they learn about the time period in general in their social-studies classes. They learn and practice songs from the Middle Ages in their music classes, and sometimes the jesters even practice their tumbling in their gym classes, she added.
This interdisciplinary focus, combined with the banquet’s hands-on nature, help students really learn about and understand the Middle Ages, and they look forward to this event each year, Bender said.
“They love it. They can’t wait to do it,” she added.
“It’s a different time, a different era, and everyone likes the knights and dragons,” Kolo added.
St. Francis-St. Stephen students Bernie Lynch and Chris Picchi, who were dressed as monks, said they enjoyed the banquet.
“It’s nice. You get to talk to your friends, and you still get to learn history,” Chris said.
Classmates Valerie LeGuyader and Hailea Higgins, who were dressed as noblewomen, said their favorite part of the banquet was seeing everyone else’s costumes. Valerie said she found her outfit at a costume store, and a few students said they found their costumes online.
“I just went on eBay and I found the pants and vest,” said St. John Bosco student Brody Bentley, who was dressed as a lord.
Several other students said their parents made their costumes. Most parents also helped out by sending prepared dishes to school for the banquet or cooking other foods during the event, Bender said.
“Luckily I have parents that are willing to help me out in the kitchen. If they weren’t helping me, I could never do it,” Bender said. “I enjoy the whole thing, I really do.”