Walking up from Ein Karem
What is the Church of the Visitation? The Virgin Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, came to visit (Luke 1:39-56) her cousin Elizabeth (Elisheva), who was pregnant with John the Baptist, at the summer house of Zachariah (also Zachariah, Zachary) in the mountains of Judea. Elizabeth’s husband was a priest (a Cohen, like me) serving at the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
Zachariah and his wife, Elisheva (Elizabeth), were both childless and past the age of childbearing. An angel appeared to Zachariah while he was serving at the temple and promised him an heir, but Zachariah did not believe the prophecy, and as punishment, he was struck dumb. Shortly after, Elisheva did conceive, and when she was in her sixth month, Mary, her relative and future mother of Jesus, came to visit her.
It is suggested that Zachariah had two homes in Ein Karem. The summer home of Zachariah and Elizabeth is the now the Church of the Visitation. John was born nearby where the Church of John the Baptist Ba Harim now stands. Between the two churches stands Miriam’s Well where Mary gave praise to the Lord and sang the Magnificat (hear this below).
Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)
- My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
- my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
- for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
- From this day all generations will call me blessed:
- the Almighty has done great things for me,
- and holy is his Name.
- He has mercy on those who fear him
- in every generation.
- He has shown the strength of his arm,
- he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
- He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
- and has lifted up the lowly.
- He has filled the hungry with good things,
- and the rich he has sent away empty.
- He has come to the help of his servant Israel
- for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
- the promise he made to our fathers,
- to Abraham and his children for ever.
The Magnificat, Canticle of Mary, Song of Mary, Latin Hymn
Outside the Church of the Visitation
Tradition attributes the construction of the first church of Ein Karem to Empress Helena of Constantinople, Constantine I’s mother, who identified the site as the home of John’s father, Zachariah and the place where Elizabeth and her infant son hid from Herod’s soldiers. The courtyard contains a statue of Mary and Elizabeth, and on the wall opposite the entrance to the lower church are forty-two ceramic tablets bearing the verses of the Magnificat in as many different languages. The Virgin Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is depicted in a massive mosaic by Bigoti on the façade.
The Franciscans bought the property from an Arab family in 1679, excavated the grounds in 1937, began to erect the new church which was constructed by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi, 1939-40 and completed in 1955.
The day I visited the Grotto it was closed for maintenance and painting. Using some tour guide tricks and a bit of Israeli “chutzpa” I was able to smuggle myself in and photograph the Grotto Chapel, which you can see below.
The grotto under the Church of the Visitation is considered the hiding place of Elizabeth and John. Elizabeth endeavoured to save her son, John, from King Herod’s soldiers during the Massacre of the Innocents in nearby Bethlehem. She cried, “Beyond a small valley full of trees is the mountain toward which Elisabeth ran with her own son, saying “Mountain! Receive a mother and son!” And the mountain opened and offered them refuge. The village became know as “Montana” which means mountain.
The Grotto Chapel is under the Church of the Visitation. A vaulted passage leads to an old cistern . According to tradition asserts 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 or Rock of Concealment. According to an ancient tradition, this stone opened to provide a hiding place for the baby John.
Interior of the Church of the Visitation
The Walls of the Church of the Visitation
Address: P.O.B. 1718 – Terra Santa 91170 – Ein Karem – Jerusalem
Tel: +972. 2 641.72.91
Fax: +972. 2 643.11.63
- Summer: 8:00am to 12:00pm; 2:30pm to 6:00pm
- Winter: 8:00am to 12:00pm; 2:30pm to 6:00pm