The Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem
The Church of the Visitation is a Catholic church in the picturesque village of Ein Karem , just outside Jerusalem. By local Christian tradition the village was the hometown of John the Baptist, and church marks the place where Mary visited Elizabeth and blessed her, as recorded in Luke:
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” 46 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1:39-55)
The blessing is known in Christian liturgy as “The Magnificant”. It is one of the most famous Christian hymns. It is partially based on Hannah’s blessing from the Old Testament (1 Samuel 2:1)
Where Did Mary and Elizabeth Meet?
By Christian tradition John Baharim church, in the center of Ein-Karem, marks the birthplace of John the Baptist, and where he grew up. This seems to contradict the tradition that Mary’s visit to Elizabeth happened elsewhere, as Luke states explicitly that they met in “Zacharia’s home” (1:40). Yet there is a possible explanation to this. Luke also states that when Elizabeth discovered she was pregnant, she was “in seclusion for five months” (1:24). Her hideout may have been the family’s Shomera, a seasonal hut used for by farmer at certain seasons of the year. Such Shomerot can still be seen in Judean and Samaria mountains.
Another tradition maintains that church also marks the place where John as an infant hidden from Herod’s soldiers, an event documented in the non-canonical Gospel of James.
History of the Church of the Visitation
The current Church of the Visitation was built in 1955. It was designed by the chief architect of the Franciscans in the Holy Land in the 20th Century, Antonio Barluzzi. Excavations prior to constructing the church uncovered remains of churches from the Byzantine and Crusaders period. This is proof of the site being venerated by also in antiquity, although there is no historical documentation of this.
Touring the Church of the Visitation
The church is open every day of the week from 8:00 to 11:45 and again from 14:30 to 17:00. At the entrance colorful ceramic tablets present Mary’s blessing to Elizabeth (the Magnificant) in 41 languages. The lower floor leads into the grotto, a crypt leading to a small spring. By local tradition it bursted when Mary greeted Elizabeth. A boulder in the crypt’s southern wall is said to be where Elizabeth hid John as an infant from Herod’s soldiers. The upper floor is designed as a Basilical church. Its walls are decorated with various subjects, most of which relate to Mary, mother of Jesus.
A tour of of the Church of the Visitation can be combined with a guided day tour of Jerusalem