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Ein - Karem (Kerem) 

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Ein Karem ~ John the Baptist




Ein Karem (Kerem) is located about 4.5 miles (7 km) west of Jerusalem. Therefore, it is within easy walking distance of Jerusalem.

Historical Background


Ein Karem means “Spring of the Vineyard” and has a Jewish and Christian history. It is still a tranquil place of trees and vineyards.

In the Old Testament, Ein Karem is referred to as “BeitaKerem or Beth-Haccerem,” as found in Jeremiah 6:1 and Nehemiah 3:14. The area was within the jurisdiction of the Tribe of Judah.


In the New Testament, Ein Karem is best known as the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth and the birthplace of John the Baptist. It is considered one of the top Jerusalem tour destinations for Christian pilgrims.


Two Homes of Zechariah and Elizabeth


The two main sites in Ein Karem are the Church of the Nativity of John the Baptist and the Visitation Church. It is believed that Zechariah and Elizabeth had two houses in Ein Karem. Zechariah was a priest and likely wealthy. Therefore, it is very possible he had two residences in Ein Karem.


Their usual residence was in the valley. However, a cooler summer house located high on a hillside allowed them to escape the heat and humidity during warmer months. The summer house is believed to be where the pregnant Elizabeth remained in seclusion for five months, as found in Luke 1:24. It’s also where Mary visited her.

The house in the valley was where John the Baptist was born. It was also here that Zechariah finally regained his power of speech when he wrote on a writing tablet that the baby’s name was to be John.


Church of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist


During excavations in the church, which has at its core the cave that Christian tradition identifies as the birthplace of John the Baptist, there have been discovered remains of two Byzantine chapels which mark the place where early Christians venerated this site as the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and the birthplace of John the Baptist. The Byzantine ruins include two chapels: the “Martyrs Chapel,” where the modern church is located, and another chapel under the southern side of the monastery. The Martyrs Chapel refers to the children killed by Herod in Matthew 2:16. An inscription in a mosaic panel reads, in Greek, “Hail martyrs of God.” Whom it refers to is unknown.


Two altars have also been discovered in this church. The high altar is dedicated to St John. To the right is Elizabeth’s altar. To the left are steps leading down to a natural grotto — identified as John’s birthplace and believed to be part of his parents’ home. Also found under this church are remains from the first century AD, including a flight of plastered steps recently identified as part of a typical Jewish ritual bath (mikveh) for purification. Some have linked the discovery to Zachariah. As a priest in the temple, he probably had to purify himself every day since his meals were often based on sacrifices brought by pilgrims. It is, therefore, possible that Zachariah had a mikveh in his own house. Therefore, the archaeological find is of major importance to substantiate the Christian tradition.


In the Crusader period (1099-1291), a church was built over the house believed to be the house of Zachariah. First mentioned by a Russian pilgrim, Daniel, in 1109, this church was one of the first to be built by the Crusaders.

Church of the Visitation


The Virgin Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is depicted in a mosaic on the facade and is commemorated in a two-tiered church built on a slope of the hill south of Ein Karem. Several churches and monasteries were built during the Byzantine period. The Visitation Crusader's Church was built over one of them.


Later, the Crusaders rebuilt some of the ruined Byzantine churches. The upper floor of the visitation church shows remains of the Crusader’s church, especially on the south wing.


The modern church, designed by Antonio Barluzzi, was completed in 1955. The artistically decorated Church of the Visitation is considered one of the most beautiful Gospel sites in the Holy Land.


This church is believed to be the site of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s summer house, where Mary visited her cousin. On the wall opposite the church, ceramic plaques reproduce Mary’s song of praise, as found in Luke 1:46-55. Mary's exultation is translated into 58 languages and can be found hanging on large plaques on the side of the church.


In the lower chapel, a vaulted passage leads to an old well. Ancient tradition suggests that a spring joyfully burst out of the rock here when Mary greeted Elizabeth.


A huge stone set in a niche is known as the Stone of Hiding. According to an ancient tradition, the stone opened to provide a hiding place for baby John during Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents — an event depicted in a painting on the wall.


Mary’s Spring 


In a valley to the south of the village is a fresh-water spring known as Mary’s Spring or the Fountain of the Virgin. Tradition states that Mary quenched her thirst from this spring before climbing the hill to meet Elizabeth.


The village of Ein Karem gets its name from this spring. Its meaning is derived from the Arabic “Ein” (spring) and Kerem (vineyard or olive grove). A small, abandoned mosque is built over the spring, another reminder that this was once an Arab village.


Southwest of Ein Karem, off Route 386, a Greek Melkite monastery and a Franciscan convent mark the Desert of St. John, a site where John the Baptist is believed to have lived in seclusion.


Places of Interest


Ein Karem is home to five churches and monasteries:


1. The Church of St. John the Baptist 


2. Visitation Church


3. Notre Dame de Sion Convent: It is operated by an order of nuns of the Zion sisters and has been converted to function as a guest house.


4. Greek Orthodox St. John Convent: This serves the Greek-Orthodox community of Ein Karem. The ancient church (built in 1894) was restored in 1975.


5. Al Moskovia Russian Monastery (initially called the Gorny Monastery). Construction on this five-orange-domed structure started in 1905 and was completed in 2005. Later, its domes were painted gold.


Additionally, a focal point is the famous Mary’s Well, where it’s believed that Mary, miraculously pregnant with Jesus, sat and drank from its spring waters while sitting with Elizabeth, who was miraculously pregnant with John at the same time.


John the Baptist in the Bible


1. John was the prophesied forerunner of Christ, whose purpose was to prepare the way of the Lord.
Malachi 3:1: “Behold, I am sending My messenger, and he will clear a way before Me. And the Lord, whom you are seeking, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of armies.


Malachi 4:5–6: “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. 6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and strike the land with complete destruction.”


2. He had a supernatural birth and calling.

Luke 1:11–17: Now an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. 12 Zechariah was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall [l]name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice over his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. 16 And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17 And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers back to their children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 


3. It was in Ein Karem that Mary magnified the Lord
Luke 1:46–56: And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. 48 For He has had regard for the humble state of His bond-servant; for behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed. 49 For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. 50 And His mercy is to generation after generation toward those who fear Him. 51 He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty-handed. 54 He has given help to His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, 55 Just as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his descendants forever.” 56 Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.


4. His main message was a message of repentance.
Matt. 3:1–12: Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, “The voice of one calling out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight!’” 4 Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 At that time, Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the region around the Jordan; 6 and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance; 9 and do not assume that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you that God is able, from these stones, to raise up children for Abraham. 10 And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore, every tree that does not bear good fruit is being cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”


5. He had the privilege of baptizing Jesus.
Matt. 3:13–17: Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan, coming to John to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have the need to be baptized by You, and yet You are coming to me?” 15 But Jesus, answering, said to him, “Allow it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him. 16 After He was baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and settling on Him, 17 and behold, a voice from the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”


6. He was beheaded for his message against the sin of Herod the Tetrarch.
Matt. 14:1–12: At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the news about Jesus, 2 and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he himself has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” 3 For when Herod had John arrested, he bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. 4 For John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 Although Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded John as a prophet. 6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod, 7 so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8 And after being prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 9 And although he was grieved, the king commanded it to be given because of his oaths and his dinner guests. 10 He sent word and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 John’s disciples came and took away the body and buried it; and they went and reported to Jesus.


Faith Lesson from John the Baptist


1. He was the prophesied forerunner of Christ.


2. He had a supernatural birth and calling.


3. John preached and baptized along the Jordan River.


4. His preaching was a strong message of repentance and judgment.


5. He baptized for the repentance of sins.


6. John’s message was similar to that of Christ, who also preached repentance and judgment.


7. He continually said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”


8. In many churches today, the message of repentance has largely been lost.


9. People need to know their position before God and their need for a Savior in order to understand the love and forgiveness He offers.


10. Salvation must stress the penalty of sin for salvation to make sense. If this is not made known, then the question becomes, “Salvation from what?”

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