Ein Karem (Arabic for The Spring of Vineyard) is a picturesque village located approximately 8 km southwest of Jerusalem. It is indirectly mentioned in the bible as home of St. Zacharia (pbuh) and his wife Elizabeth, and the birthplace of their son John the Baptist (pbuh). Mary visited Ein Karem on the way to Bethlehem during her pregnancy, met her kinswoman Elizabeth, and stayed with her for 3 months following the visitation by the angel Gabriel in which he announced the future birth of Jesus (pbuh) “Elizabeth spoke out with a loud voice and said: Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord come to me” (Luke 1:42).
The Church of Visitation
This church, beautifully located on the slopes of a rocky hill and shaded by cypresses, is also known as the Church of the Magnificat (Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55), in commemoration of the answer Mary gave her cousin Elizabeth in the Gospel episode of the Visitation. Her hymn to the glory of the Lord is inscribed in 41 languages on one wall of the church. The present basilica is a Franciscan church designed by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi and built between 1938 and 1955. The Franciscan Order had acquired the land as early as the second half of the 17th century. The construction work revealed the remains of earlier, more ancient sacred buildings; in particular, vestiges of a church of the Byzantine era and of a similar building raised by the Crusaders in the 12th century were found. In front of the Church of the Visitation, which is entered through an artistic wrought-iron gate, is a low portico topped by a graceful bell tower. This building consists of two parts. In the so-called Upper Church religious services are held, while in the Crypt is to be found a cave in which a miraculous spring broke forth at the exact moment when Elizabeth welcomed the Virgin. Among other curiosities, it is worth mentioning a stone against one wall, which bears the imprint of a young boy’s body. Traditionally, it is believed that the infant John left this imprint, when Elizabeth hid him from Herod’s soldiers at the time of the slaughter of the Innocents.
The Church of St. John the Baptist
The Church of St. John the Baptist belongs to the Franciscan monastery of the same name. The first church rose here in the 5th century, over the place traditionally held to be the home of St. Zacharia (pbuh) and Elizabeth. Enlarged by the Crusaders and later used by Arabs as a caravanserai and stable, the church was rebuilt and transformed several times. The latest additions, carried out by the Franciscans, date from the 2nd half of 19th century and from the thirties of last century. The most striking part of the pleasantly adorned interior is the Crypt, which houses the so-called Grotto of the Benedictus (Zacharia’s song in Luke 1:68-79), considered being the place where John the Baptist (pbuh) was born. A marble star beneath the altar bears a Latin inscription: “HIC PRECURSOR DOMINI NATUS EST” (Here was born the precursor of the Lord).