Ein Kerem in lit. translation: “Spring of the Vineyard”, was an ancient village of the Jerusalem District and now a neighborhood in southwest Jerusalem.
Map of the area:
Ein Kerem – General Info
According to Christian tradition, John the Baptist was born in Ein Kerem, leading to the establishment of many churches and monasteries. In 2010 the neighborhood had a population of 2,000. It attracts three million visitors a year, one-third of them pilgrims from around the world.
As you can see Ein Kerem neighborhood has historic 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 the rest of Jerusalem). But in this post, I will cover several of the most popular tourist attractions.
We usually park not far from Mary’s Spring. Keep in mind there is no much parking thus it is best to come early.
According to a Christian tradition which 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 a spring is actually 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 still remain.
In the header photo, you can see the mosque above Mary’s Spring.
The Church of the Visitation
From Mary’s Spring, you can take the trail leading up towards The Church of the Visitation.
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 venerated 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.
Keep in mind that Church of the Visitation is closed for lunch, thus visit either before 11:45 or after 14:30.
Sisters of Our Lady Of Zion
The view above was made from Ratisbonne Notre Dame De Sion Convent AKA Sisters of Our Lady Of Zion. Notre Dame De Sion Convent has nice gardens where you can enjoy the nature, silence and this view.
Church of St. John Ba Harim
A Catholic church and monastery built over Byzantine and Crusader’s chapels and dedicated to John the Baptist.
Inside the church is a cave where according to tradition was the birthplace of John the Baptist. John is an important figure in Christianity, and regarded as the “forerunner” – since John Baptized Jesus, and proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah.
There are additional churches and small gems in this neighborhood and the purpose of this post is to give you a small taste. You would probably need half day to a full day to cover this neighborhood.
That’s all for today and I’ll see you in future travels!
For additional points of interest nearby check out Jerusalem page.