The Church of the Visitation
Down the hill from Jerusalem’s famed Hadassa Hospital sits the tranquil Village of Ein Karem, Spring of the Vineyard, still set among the wooded hills on the outskirts of the city.
Although not mentioned by name, according to age-old tradition it was here that Mary came after the angel Gabriel informed her that her cousin, Elisabeth, was six months pregnant despite her advanced years. It was this visit that gave the main church of the village its name – the Church of the Visitation.
Luke’s is the only gospel to describe the meeting between the two women in which Mary spoke the immortal words that we now know as the Magnificat. Decorated plaques engraved with the words in many languages adorn the walls of the courtyard of the church. They mark the meeting that took place in the home of Elisabeth and her husband Zachariah. His statue stands in the pleasant garden surrounding the church.
Zachariah was a priest in Jerusalem’s Temple, and it was while he was on duty there that the angel Gabriel appeared to tell him of Elisabeth’s imminent pregnancy. Zachariah was so unbelieving that he was struck dumb until the birth of their son, John, who grew up to become John the Baptist.
A. The Crusader grotto and courtyard and the original Franciscan building (1674) have all been skillfully integrated into the modern church.
*My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Luke 1:46-48
Inside the grotto in the church is a stone behind which it is said, the infant John hid when Herod sent out his troops to slaughter all the newborn infants of Bethlehem. Above the Grotto’s niche, a mural on the wall depicts the events of that awful day.
Close to the church in the center of the village is the Spring of Mary of Nazerth, where the Virgin is said to have rested before the final climb to her cousin’s house. Thirsty visitors still refresh themselves here with the well’s cool waters.
Now an attractive suburb on the rural outskirts of Jerusalem, Ein Karem is a wonderful place to spend a peaceful day away from the bustle of the busy city, leisurely walking the streets with their artists’ studios and galleries nestling beside ancient churches. Or one can make Ein Karem the base for a visit to Jerusalem, enjoying the hospitality of its hostels, such as the one at the Convent of the Sisters of Sion.
“And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah; And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with Holy Ghost: And she spoke out in a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. Luke 1:39-42
The Church of St. John the Baptist
Each day, Ein Karem is filled with the chimes of church bells ringing out from every corner of this scenic village. One of its most impressive churches is the Church of St. John the Baptist, erected over the grotto where he is said to have been born.
Luke’s gospel tells how the angel Gabriel described John to his father, Zachariah, “thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shall call his name John. And thou shall have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost”.
Archaeological work nearby discovered a mosaic fragment dating back to the 5-6th century. Decorated with peacocks, partridges and flowers, it bears the Greek inscription “Hail Martyrs of God”.
The connection of the village with John the Baptist was so strong that while the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem flourished in the Holy Land, Ein Karem was known as St. John in the Mountains.
Just an hour’s donkey ride from Ein Karem is the newly discovered Cave of John the Baptist. On its walls are some of the earliest Christian art depicting John the Baptist and his symbols. This rough drawing is believed to show the figure of John the Baptist himself.
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