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Ain Karem: S. John and the Visitation - April 28 , 2005

Click on the photos to enlarge.

The Church of the Nativity of St. John is also called "St. John in the Mountains". This latter name comes from the term, "hill country", which is mentioned by Luke the Evangelist (Lk 1:39) as the place where the Virgin Mary went to assist her cousin Elizabeth who, as the angel said, was bearing St. John the Baptist.

A beautiful church was standing there in Crusaders' times. However, after the fall of the Latin kingdom (1187 A.D.), the building was reduced by the Moslem villagers to a stable for their livestock. Various pilgrims wrote about that situation before the Franciscans were successful in recovering this Holy Place in the XVII cent.

 Plan of the Shrine of St. John the Baptist
 at Ain Karem

1. Crypt of the nativity of St. John the Baptist
2. Church from the 11th and 12th cent.
3. Chapel of the Martyrs,
     with an inscription and tombs (5th cent.)
4. South Chapel (7th cent.)
5. Ritual Bath of the 1st cent.
6-7. Crusader Halls (12th cent.)

The building remounts to the 11th cent. with the exception of the dome which rather belongs to the 12th cent. The memory of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist is kept inside the church in a crypt to the left of the main altar.
The russian pilgrim Daniel the Abbot (12 cent.) has the first detailed description of this place:

"… the house of Zacharias is at the foot of a mountain to the west of Jerusalem. To this house of Zacharias came the Holy Mother of God to visit Elizabeth… In the same house John the Precursor was born. Now in this place there has been built a tall church; on the left hand as you enter this church beneath a small altar ia a little cave, and in this cave John the Precursor was born".

There was found in front of the church's main gate a Greek inscription in a mosaic which states: "Hail, O Martyrs of God" (left). In the courtyard some remains of the Roman period have been excavated in 1941-2. A fragmentary statue of Venus found there points to a pagan cult practiced by the Roman legions (right).

With the exception of various Christian religious institutions established in the hamlet. the population is made up entirely of Jews. But a mosque is a witness to the existence of an Arab village before 1948. A lively Christian community used to be there too, with most parishioners working as wood craftsmen and guides to the pilgrim.

The name of Ain Karim is said to be borrowed from the many gardens and fields (karm) flourishing because of a perennial spring (ain). The spring is called Ain Sitti Maryam ("the Fountain of Mary").

The Visitation is another important shrine for Ain Karim. The evangelical account is remembered by pilgrims from the 13th to 19th century, who see this place as the "second house of Zacharias" where the pregnant Elizabeth "remained in seclusion for five months" (Lk 1:24). Before that period, the apocryphal memory of " Elizabeth's Refuge" was kept there (The Gospel of James). See the following text.
The oldest description of this place comes once again from Daniel the Abbot (12th cent.):

"from there it is half a verst through a ravine to the mountain which Elizabeth fled and said: 'Receive, O mountain, a mother and child!' And immediately the mountain parted and took her in. And the servants of herod who had pursued her, when they came to this place found nothing and returned home baffled. And this place may be recognized in the rock even to the present day. And above this place there is now built a little church, and beneath the little church is a little cave and another little church built on to the cave in front of it. From this cave flows very good water, and Elizabeth and John drank this water while they were living in the cave in the mountain guarded by an angel until the death of Herod".

The ancient buildings all around the sanctuary pertain mostly to the Crusader period (12th cent.). On the wall opposite to the church are encased some 50 modern ceramic artworks with the Canticle of Mary ("Magnificat": Lk 1:46-55) in 50 different languages.

 Plan of the Sanctuary of the Visitation
(and Elizabeth's Refuge)

1. Present entrance to the site
2. Byzantine cistern (6th-8th cent.)
3. Well containing a small spring
     (6th-12th cent.)
4. Upper Church (12th-14th cent.)
5. Crusader Hall (12th cent.)

The oldest memories are preserved inside the lower church: the small spring is found at the end of a vaulted passage, while in a niche on the right there is a huge stone which is said to be that where Elizabeth once took refuge with her child. Painted scenes on the wall commemorate the events.

The frescoes which cover the walls of the upper church are dedicated to the glorification of Mary. Near the main altar and behind it are seen the remains of the Crusader church.

From the Sanctuary of the Visitation you will have a spectacular panoramic view on the Sorek Valley (northern branch) and on the whole village of Ain Karim.

 Sketch plan of the Sanctuaries and other religious institutions of Ain Karim.

 1. Nativity of St. John the Baptist
2. Spring (Ain Sitti Mariam)
3. Visitation of the B. Virgin Mary
4. Desert of St. John
5. Rosary Sisters
6. Sisters of Charity
7. Moskoviyya.
     Russian Orthodox Nunnery
 8. Greek-Orthodox Church
 9. Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion
 10. Bus Station
 11. Road to Jerusalem

Three kilometers to the west of Ain Karim lies the small monastery of the Desert of St. John. The sanctuary--of lesser antiquity than the previous ones-- is situated near a grotto beside a spring and reminds us of Elizabeth's Refuge at the Visitation.

Click on the photos to enlarge.

External Links

Ein Karem (Near East Tourism Agency)

Ayn Karim, the birth place of Sayidna Yahya (Palestine remembered)

En Kerem (Jerusalem Municipality Sites)

 SBF main, Index

Biblical Escursions


1. City Walls (North)

2. City Walls (South)

3. City of David

4. Ophel

5. Jewish Quarter

6. Mount Zion

7. Armenian Quarter

8. Holy Sepulchre

9. Via Dolorosa

10. Probatica

11. North Jerusalem

12. Gethsemane

13. Mount of Olives

14. Ascension, Bethphage, Bethany

15. West Jerusalem

16. Ain Karem

17. Bethlehem

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Created/updated: Sunday, December 16, 2001 by J. Abela / E. Alliata / C. Pappalardo
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