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Ein Karem

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Highlights of Ein Karem in the Holy Land


Tucked into the hills of southwest Jerusalem, still within city limits, is the picturesque village of Ein Karem, the childhood home of John the Baptist. Two churches and three monasteries are located around the village: Church of Saint John the Baptist, Church of the Visitation, a Russian monastery, the Greek Orthodox convent of Saint John, and the monastery of Notre Dame De Sion, plus Mary's Spring where, according to Christian tradition, Mary met Elizabeth after she journeyed from Nazareth to see her cousin. In addition to religious sites, Ein Karem is known for its restaurants, many of which are open on the Sabbath. From a taste of hummus to modern fare, the restaurants in the small town tend to be busy with diners on Friday and Saturday. The neighborhood has also attracted artisans and craftsmen over the years and is home to several galleries.


Background Information


The village was once a Canaanite site that evolved around a spring, thus the name Ein Kerem, "the spring of the vineyard." The site is identified as Beit Hakkerem from the Israelite period where it says in Jeremiah 6:1: "Raise the signal over Beth Hakkerem!" Since Biblical times, the neighborhood changed hands from Romans to Byzantines to Islamic forces.


Ein Karem in Scripture

"At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!'” Luke 1:39-45

Church of Saint John the Baptist


The Franciscan Church of Saint John the Baptist is believed to be built over the birthplace of John and part of the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Inside the church are the remains of an ancient mosaic floor and a cave where, according to Christian tradition, John the Baptist was born. The grotto is considered the most sacred site in the church. The present church was built on the ruins of the original Byzantine church – parts of which still are part of the present church. The church was first built by Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine. The Franciscans took over the church in 1674 and the present church was built in the second half of the 19th century on the remnants of earlier Byzantine and Crusader churches. Zechariah’s prayer when John was born, a recorded in scripture, is written on the walls that surround the garden outside the church.


Church of the Visitation

When Mary greeted her cousin Elizabeth after traveling from Nazareth to Ein Karem, Elizabeth exclaimed that the child in her womb leapt for joy. Mary then blessed the Lord in what has become known as the Magnificat, recorded in Luke 1:46-55. This blessing is inscribed in 41 languages on one wall of the church.

In 1679, the site was bought by the Franciscans and the present church was restored in 1955 on top of ancient church remains. Apparently Helena, mother of Constantine, identified this site as the home of Zechariah and the place where he and Elizabeth hid from Herod's soldiers. Christian Crusaders later recognized it as the site where the meeting between Elizabeth and her cousin Mary took place, and erected a two-story church on the site of the ancient ruins. An ancient cistern from which, according to tradition, Zechariah and Elizabeth drank, can also be found in the church; the stone next to it is said to have hid the two from Herod's soldiers.


Travelujah Tips

Access to the churches is free. Church of Saint John the Baptist: Monday-Friday 8:00-12:00; 14:30-17:00; Sunday 9:00-12:00; 14:30-17:00 (Saturday closed). Church of the Visitation: Apr.-Sept., daily 8-noon and 2:30-6; Oct.-Mar., daily 8-noon and 2:30-5. Gates closed Sat., ring bell to be let in.


Nearby Places of Interest


Sataf, an Israel national park with ancient aqueducts and caves, springs and remains of a 4,000 BC Chalcolithic village.


Useful Links

Israel Tourism Ministry




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