According to tradition, at the spot of Church of the Visitation, Mary met her cousin Elizabeth and sang a hymn of praise (the Magnificat). Let’s begin exploring!
Map of the area:
And here is the map of Ein Kerem:
- You can see the Church of the Visitation at the bottom left corner.
- You can click on the image to enlarge it.
- The map also lists restaurants (blue), artists (green), and B&B (red).
You can find the updated directions in the guide to Ein Kerem. From the bus station or the parking, you walk towards Mary’s Spring. And from Mary’s Spring, take the stairs towards The Church of the Visitation.
Note: as you can see in the photo above, they ask visitors to wear modest closes.
One 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, Zachary, and the place where Elizabeth and her infant son hid from Herod’s soldiers.
Possibly due to the Muslim takeover of Jerusalem in 638, the original shrine must have gone out of reach for Christian pilgrims. By the time the Crusaders conquered the Holy Land, they found in Ein Karem two different locations worshiped in connection with the main points of interest for pilgrims: the meeting between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, the home of Zachary and Elizabeth, the birth of John, and the hiding place of Elizabeth and John. They erected two main churches here, the precursors of what are today the Church of St John the Baptist and the Church of the Visitation. After the departure of the Crusaders, the different traditions shifted back and forth between the two locations.
At the site of the Church of the Visitation, the Crusaders erected a two-story church dedicated to the meeting between Elizabeth and Mary over the ancient ruins they found here. When the Crusaders were pushed out of the Holy Land, the church gradually deteriorated. In the 14th century, it was for a while under Armenian monks’ care, but in 1480 a pilgrim reports only ruins from the site. The Franciscans bought the property from an Arab family in 1679, excavated the grounds in 1937, and erected a new church in the following years, preserving all extant Byzantine and Crusader remains as part of the new shrine.
October – March: 08:00 – 11:45 and 14:30 – 17:00
April – September: 08:00 – 11:45 and 14:30 – 18:00
As you enter the Church of the Visitation, you will see an entrance to the church under the west facade mosaic.
But if instead of entering the church, you will turn to the left, then after a dozen steps you will find stairs. These stairs lead to the upper church.
The Upper Church
The walls of the upper church are decorated with frescoes depicting episodes such as The Wedding of Cana; the Council of Ephesus (431) which defined Mary as Theotokos or the Mother of God; the Battle of Lepanto (1571) in which a united Christian fleet defeated an Ottoman fleet, a victory ascribed to the help of the Virgin Mary under the title Mary Help of Christians and celebrated by the Catholic Church with the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary; Duns Scotus defending his thesis on the Immaculate Conception at the Sorbonne in Paris;
Mary protecting Christians with her mantle according to the oldest extant hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary as Theotokos, the Sub tuum presidium. Verses from the Magnificat are painted on the columns of the church. In the corners are the four cardinal virtues, and around the windows on the left side of the church are Christian writers (Fathers and Doctors of the Church) who have written about the Virgin Mary. The ceiling is painted in the Tuscan style of the 14th century.
And now let’s head to the lower church.
The Lower Church
The lower church contains a narrow medieval barrel-vaulted crypt ending with a well-head from which, according to tradition, Elizabeth and her infant drank. The well is connected to a Roman or Byzantine overflow pipe running under the medieval floor. Also preserved are remains of the ancient church and beautiful mosaic floors.
The rock with a cleft next to the entrance of the medieval crypt is said to mark the site where the mountain opened up to hide Elizabeth and the infant John from Herod’s soldiers – this is the “Rock of Concealment.” This tradition is based on the 2nd-century apocryphal Protoevangelium of James 22:3.
The interior of the lower church holds Italianate frescoes depicting Zachary at the altar of the Lord, the Visitation, and Elizabeth hiding her son during the Massacre of the Innocents.
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. On the facade of the upper church is a striking mosaic commemorating the Visitation. Next to the church proper, a Crusader hall of the 12th century survived in good condition.
There are additional churches and small gems in Ein Kerem, and by combining them, you can make a lovely half a day trip.
Have you been to Church of the Visitation in Ein Kerem? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!
Additional ResourcesHere are several resources that I created to help travelers:
- Israel Trip Planner is the page that will help you to create your perfect travel route.
- National Parks And Nature Reserves page lists and put all national parks on the map. There is also a top list, information about ticket types and campsites.
- If you are looking for things to do, here are the pages for Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Sea Of Galilee, and Makhtesh Ramon.
- Wondering what events are there in Israel? Here is the Events And Festivals By Season guide.