Ein Karem is the village “in the hill country of Judah” (Like 1:65) where John the Baptist was born. Here Zacharias, John the Baptist’s father, had his summer home and here the Virgin Mary visited her cousin Elisabeth. Churches, convents and monasteries abound in the picturesque valley, while around Mary’s spring, from which Mary is said to have drawn water when she visited her cousin Elisabeth; there are artists’ galleries and a popular Music Centre. The oldest churches are those of St. John the Baptist and Visitation, both belonging to the Franciscans.
The Church of St. John the Baptist is built over the birthplace of St. John and has beautiful paintings and decorated ceramic tiles. The first church on the site was erected in Byzantine times and rebuilt by the Crusaders, but later destroyed. The present structure was completed in 1674. Steps lead down to a natural cave, the Grotto of the “Benedictus” is inscribed on the lintel: “Blessed be the Lord, Yahweh of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people”. The two-story Church of the Visitation, designed by Barluzzi, was completed in 1955.
A chapel built in the site of the home of Elizabeth and Zacharias has paintings describing events in their lives. Behind a grill is the rock where the baby John is said to have been concealed during the Massacre if the Innocents. The courtyard is decorated with ceramic tiles bearing the “Magnificat” in 42 languages.
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