In Ein Kerem guide we will visit Mary’s Spring, Church of the Visitation, Church of St. John Ba Harim, and Notre Dame de Sion. Let’s begin!
Note: Ein Kerem is also spelled as Ein Karem.
What Does Ein Kerem Mean?
The literal translation of Ein Kerem from Hebrew means: “Spring of the Vineyard”.
Map of the area:
And here is the map of Ein Kerem attractions:
- you can click on the image to enlarge it.
- the map also lists restaurants (blue), artists (green), and B&B (red).
If you are using public transport then you will probably take bus #28. Here is a preset link to Moovit. In this link, the destination is already set, and to get the customized directions, just set the starting point.
The bus stop of line #28 is located on Ein Kerem street near POI #2 (see the map above). On the other side of the street, you can find public parking. It is free parking and located close to all POI. The only downside is that this is not a big parking lot and can fill up quickly. Thus, if you are driving there, I would suggest arriving early.
Ein Kerem – General Info
Ein-Kerem, the village, and its surrounding geographical basin have been continually occupied since ancient times. The village boasts a freshwater spring and a unique mixture of vernacular and monumental architecture.
Built-in traditional Arab village building style, its narrow alleys, massive stone walls, and thick-walled houses have remained mostly intact. The dramatic biblical landscape surrounding the village, complete with ancient terraces, olive presses, and other agricultural systems, are also well preserved and are home to a fantastic diversity of flora and fauna. Ein-Kerem is surrounded by ancient olive groves, some of which are 1,200 years old.
Ein-Kerem is considered the birthplace of St. John the Baptist and the site of St. Mary’s Visitation. As such, it has become a major Christian pilgrimage site. The first churches, St. John Ba’Harim and the Visitation, were built in 4th-century Byzantine times, then rebuilt by the Crusaders in the 12th century.
Today’s churches and bell towers were constructed in the 19th century on the Crusader foundations. There are seven active churches and monasteries of different denominations in the village today. In the basements of some of the village houses, ancient Jewish ritual baths from Second Temple times have been found.
After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, new immigrants from North Africa, Yemen, and Turkey settled in the village. They would draw water from the spring or buy it from water sellers. Kerosene was used to heat their homes. Those were years of austerity, but the fertile land and surrounding orchards gave the villagers plenty of fruit and vegetables.
During the 1920s, many famous artists came to paint Ein Kerem. Among them were Ruben Rubin, Israel Paldi, Ziona Tager, Anna Ticho, and Nahum Guttman. Teddy Kollek, the renowned Mayor of Jerusalem, had intended to turn the village into an artists’ center, but this dream was never fulfilled. Nevertheless, many painters, musicians, writers, and sculptors live and work in Ein-Kerem today. The village of Ein-Kerem and its surrounding cultural landscape is under consideration by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Source: sign on site.
As you can see, Ein Kerem neighborhood has historical importance, but in recent years the neighborhood had a turnover, and people visit not only for historical reasons. Today many artists live in this neighborhood, and you can find many galleries. Moreover, many Israelis like to visit this picturesque neighborhood because everything is open on Saturdays (despite big parts of Jerusalem). But in this post, I will cover several of the most popular tourist attractions.
From the parking lot mentioned above, you can follow Ha-Maayan street till Mary’s Spring.
Note: Mary’s Spring is located near number #1 on the map of Ein Kerem.
According to a Christian tradition that started in the 14th century, the Virgin Mary drank water from this village spring, and there is also the place where Mary and Elizabeth met. Therefore, since the 14th century, the spring is known as the Fountain of the Virgin. The spring waters are considered holy by some Catholic and Orthodox Christian pilgrims who visit the site and are filling here their bottles. What looks like spring is the end of an ancient aqueduct. The spring itself was always known as one of the best and strongest in the Judaean Mountains, but today its water is not potable due to pollution. The former Arab inhabitants have built a mosque and school on the site, of which a Maqam (shrine) and minaret remain.
Note: according to a sign on site, drinking water from Mary’s Spring is forbidden.
The Church of the Visitation
From Mary’s Spring, we will take the stairs towards The Church of the Visitation.
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, and 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 the care of Armenian monks, 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.
Church of the Visitation – Opening Hours
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.
Church of the Visitation – 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.
Church of the Visitation – 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.
From the Church of the Visitation, we will return to Mary’s Spring. And at this point, I want to mention that there is a public restroom near Mary’s Spring. The toilet is located under the viewpoint which is about ten meters from Mary’s Spring.
Then from Mary’s Spring, we will take Ha-Maayan street (and pass near the parking on the way) to Church of St. John Ba Harim.
Church of St. John Ba Harim
Note: Church of St. John Ba Harim is also called Church of Saint John the Baptist.
The Church of Saint John the Baptist is a Catholic church in Ein Karem, Jerusalem, that belongs to the Franciscan order. It was built at the site where Saint John the Baptist was believed to have been born.
In 1941–42, the Franciscans excavated the area west of the church and monastery. Here they discovered graves, rock-cut chambers, wine presses, and small chapels with mosaic tiling. The southern rock-cut chamber contained ceramic datable to a period stretching from approximately the first century BC till 70 AD, an interval that includes the presumed lifetime of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John. The community living here has been dated by the archaeological findings back to the Roman, Byzantine, and Early Muslim periods.
Most of the current church structure probably dates back to the 11th century, with the lower courses possibly dating to the Byzantine period (4th-7th century).
Church of St. John Ba Harim is located near point #25 on the Ein Kerem map.
Church of Saint John the Baptist – Opening Hours
Summer: 08:00 – 12:00 and 14:30 – 17:45
Winter: 08:00 – 12:00 and 14:30 – 16:45
On Mevo Ha-Shaar street (the street that leads to Church of St. John Ba Harim), you can find the Chocolate House. It is a small shop with boutique chocolate and ice cream. And since I saw many positive recommendations, we made a short stop there.
We tried several different kinds, and indeed it was good.
And now let’s head to the next POI.
And to reach it we will take Ha-Ahayot road.
While walking, you will see many lovely gardens and buildings. Like this one:
Notre Dame de Sion
At Ha-Oren 23 street (not far from point #10 on the Ein Kerem map) you can find the entrance to Notre Dame de Sion.
The convent Notre Dame de Sion is at the heart of the Judean Hills, in the village of Ein Karem, the traditional place of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and the birth of John the Baptist.
Ein Karem, while being very much sought after both by the local population and by pilgrims, has kept its village character and draws many artists by its beauty. Above the village to the west is the Hadassah Hospital and to the east Mount Herzl and the Yad Vashem Memorial.
Its geographical location, its pleasant and silent surroundings offer a different and varied kind of hospitality.
Source: official website
Notre Dame de Sion – Opening Hours
Monday – Friday: 9 – 12 and 14 – 17 (17:30 in summer).
Saturday: 9 – 17 (17:30 in summer).
We will start by visiting the chapel, which is to the right of the entrance.
Notre Dame de Sion – The Chapel
The chapel is a place of silence and prayer, where the welcoming community meets in the evening for prayer in common. The chapel is striking because of its simplicity and beauty, which help one to gather one’s thoughts.
The Way of the Cross, which is the work of a Jewish artist, and the stained glass windows showing Moses and Elijah speak of the vocation of Our Lady of Sion, a congregation that is especially attentive to the biblical and Jewish roots of Christian faith.
Source: official website
From the Chapel, we will head to the gardens.
Notre Dame de Sion – The Gardens
The garden with its flowers and shade draws many visitors because of its silence and beauty and its unrestricted view of the Judean Hills.
The visit of the garden includes a small cemetery, where Father Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne is buried, as well as sisters who died in Ein Karem and a few Christian friends.
Source: official website
And here is the view of Church of the Visitation from the other side of the valley (western hill of Ein Kerem).
In the following closeup, you can see Gorny or “Moscovia” Convent (top) vs The Church of the Visitation (below it).
From Notre Dame de Sion we followed Ha-Oren street towards the parking. On the same street, you can also find the Greek Church, but it looks like it is closed for visitors.
The mentioned Ein Kerem route took us about three and a half hours. And since it was already lunchtime, we returned to our cars.
On our previous visits, we ate at Ein Kerem, but this time I wanted to try something special.
Shai Seltzer Cheese & Goats
I heard about Shai Seltzer goat cheese from different people, and many of them swear by this place. And since it is located near Sataf springs, not far from Ein Kerem, we decided to visit it.
West of Jerusalem, down the eastern slope of Mount Eitan by the Sataf Springs, lies an area that has known agriculture for the last six thousand years.
Here is where Shai and his family founded the farm in 1974. On location, there is an organic vegetable garden based on the ancient technique of terras farming, a goat herd of 170 heads, and an award-winning goat cheese dairy.
Source: official website
The official site does not mention opening hours. But from what I know, the farm is open from 11 till 17 on Saturdays (and maybe on Fridays). Sometimes they are also open on holidays. If you are planning on driving there, then contact them.
You can buy their homemade cheese (about half a dozen types), and either eat there with a bottle of wine (some bread, olives, and cherry tomatoes) or use the takeaway option.
There is a scenic view and this can be a lovely experience for a date. But we used the takeaway.
I was left with mixed feelings after visiting this place. Nobody mentions it, but the road to the farm is awful. Or, more precisely, the lack of the road. Thus the drive instead of ten minutes can take twenty-five. Of course, if you have an off-road car, then the dirt road will be a piece of cake. But I did not enjoy the ride with a usual family car.
The cheeses were tasty, but since they are handmade, they will be expensive.
And lastly, the reason we used the takeaway is the smell. I was not raised on a farm, and thus I am not used to the smell. Though it was not too strong, it can affect the appetite (after all, there are goats around you).
Where to stay in Ein Kerem?
There is a guest house in Notre Dame de Sion. But there are also many other hotels, apartments, and guest houses. You can find out additional information, like availability and prices on booking.com.
There are additional churches and small gems in Ein Kerem, and in this post, we covered the most popular ones. You would probably need about half a day for a visit. Moreover, since many churches closed for lunch, I would suggest coming early. This way you will find parking easily, and walk during the cooler hours of the day.
Have you been to the Ein Kerem? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.
That’s all for today, and I’ll see you in future travels!
For additional points of interest nearby check out Jerusalem page.
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.