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The Biblical History of Ein Karem – And Why You Should Visit

Ein Karem

When people think of the Holy Land, many only consider Old Jerusalem. However, there are several other must-see pilgrimage locations in the surrounding areas. At the top of the list is Ein Karem, making it a key stop on our pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Located 7.5 kilometers (about 4.5 miles) south of Jerusalem, Ein Karem is significant for its biblical history and must-see religious sites. Today we will highlight all there is to see in this beautiful countryside.

Ein Karem in the Bible

The historical streets of Ein Karem, IsraelThe historical streets of Ein Karem, Israel

To appreciate Ein Karem as a pilgrimage destination, you must first understand its biblical history.

The picturesque hillside of Ein Karem is the location of the following events from the Bible:

  • The Visitation (Luke 1:39-56)
  • The Birth of Saint John the Baptist (Luke 1:57-80)

The Visitation

Fresco depicting the meeting of Mary with Elizabeth at the Sanctuary of the Visitation in Ein KaremFresco depicting the meeting of Mary with Elizabeth at the Sanctuary of the Visitation in Ein Karem

Ein Karem witnessed the event of the Visitation (Luke 1:39-56). As the name denotes, this is when Mary visited Elizabeth and her husband, Zechariah. She was there to assist elderly Elizabeth in the last few months of her pregnancy. Elizabeth’s baby was none other than Saint John the Baptist.

When Mary arrived and greeted Elizabeth, “the child leaped in [Elizabeth’s] womb” (1:41). This moment is significant for a couple of reasons:

  1. It was the first time that John the Baptist “announced” the coming of Christ.
  2. According to many theologians, it was the moment that John the Baptist was cleansed of original sin.

Other verses of this biblical account also provide us with key traditions of the Catholic Church:

  • Part of the Hail Mary Prayer: After John the Baptist leaped in her womb, Elizabeth proclaims: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42). These words compose part of the first half of the Hail Mary prayer.
  • The Magnificat: Following Elizabeth’s proclamation, Mary praises God and announces how she herself magnifies His love (Luke 1:46-55). Her words are known as the Magnificat, a prayer recited in the Liturgy of the Hours.

The Birth of Saint John the Baptist

Inside the Church of Saint John the Baptist, a marble star beneath the altar denotes the location of his birthInside the Church of Saint John the Baptist, a marble star beneath the altar denotes the location of his birth

Ein Karem is also the birthplace of John the Baptist (Luke 1:57-66). His conception and birth were due to God’s intercession, as they had been barren their whole marriage. This miracle was made known to Zechariah by Gabriel the Archangel.

Zechariah’s skepticism of Gabriel’s message resulted in him being made “silent and unable to speak” until John’s birth (see Luke 1:5-25). Zechariah began to speak after writing on a tablet, “His name is John” (Luke 1:63).

As soon as Zechariah could speak, he began to prophesy about Jesus and about John's role as a prophet. His prophecy is now known as the Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:67-79). This Canticle, like the Magnificat, is a prayer recited in the Liturgy of the Hours.

What to See in Ein Karem

Ein Karem means “Spring of the Vineyard,” and you will understand why when you visit! Entering this picturesque hill country is like stepping into a painting of lush gardens and vineyards.

When you travel with us, you can rest assured that you will have all the best destinations built into your itinerary. A few “must visit” places include:

  • The Church of the Visitation
  • The Church of St. John
  • The Art Scene

Church of the Visitation

Magnificat Wall at the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, IsraelMagnificat Wall at the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, Israel

Ein Karem’s Church of the Visitation is located on the hillside above the town. As the name suggests, this stunning Catholic church (completed in 1955) is built on the site of the Visitation (Luke 1:39-56).

There are three places to explore while you contemplate the Visitation:

  1. The Façade and Courtyard: Outside, a massive mosaic commemorating the Visitation adorns the façade of the church. Inside the rich gardens of the courtyard is a statue of Mary and Elizabeth greeting each other, surrounded by forty-two tablets displaying the Magnificat in different languages.
  2. The Lower Church: The church has two floors. Its lower level is accessible through a gorgeous portal made of ancient stone. Inside the little lower-level church you’ll discover multiple niches that contain:
    • A narrow crypt: It’s part of the original Byzantine church and displays intricate mosaic floors. At its end is an ancient cistern that, according to tradition, John the Baptist drank from!
    • The “Rock of Concealment”: According to the apocryphal Gospel of James (not included in the Bible), Elizabeth hid with John behind this rock during King Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents (see Matthew 2:16-18).
  3. The Upper Church: The upper church is an array of rich frescoes. They depict various events and teachings about the Blessed Virgin Mary, such as:
    • The Wedding at Cana, when Jesus turned water into wine at Mary’s request.
    • The Council of Ephesus (431 AD) that officially defined Mary as the Mother of God (Theotokos).
    • The Battle of Lepanto (1571 AD) when Mary’s intercession through the rosary led to the defeat of an Ottoman fleet during a pivotal battle.

Church of St. John

View of the Church of St. John the Baptist in the Village of Ein KaremView of the Church of St. John the Baptist in the Village of Ein Karem

The Church of St. John (also known as St. John in the Mountains) rests in the valley near Ein Karem’s town center. Built by the Franciscans, the Church of St. John is considered the location where Saint John the Baptist was born.

This church (and Franciscan monastery) holds an abundance of history and opportunities for prayerful reflection. There are a couple of places to consider:

  • The Courtyard: A large map displays the church's floor plan according to archeological findings. You’ll see that it’s a rich collection of architectural styles over multiple centuries. On the walls of the courtyard, ceramic tiles display the Canticle of Zechariah in 24 different languages.
  • The Cave of Saint John the Baptist’s Birth: Inside, the left apse of the church leads through an intricate iron gate to a small cave adorned with marble reliefs. Beneath the foot of the altar, a marble star denotes the location of John’s birth with a Latin inscription that says: “Here was born the precursor of the Lord.”


Colorful souvenirs line the walls of this downtown shopColorful souvenirs line the walls of this downtown shop

In addition to its rich biblical history, Ein Karem is a vibrant art community. Amid its upscale downtown, you’ll see numerous art galleries containing the works of local artists. What could be a better way to commemorate your visit to the Holy Land than a one-of-a-kind art piece?

Ein Karem hasn’t forgotten the culinary arts either. Some of the top restaurants in the area are in Ein Karem. Maayan Street and Ein Karem Street offer most of the town's culinary delights, including Italian, Moroccan, and French cuisine.

Learn More About the Complete Holy Land Experience

Glimmer Tours will ensure that you won’t miss out on all the best that Ein Karem has to offer (and it offers a lot)! See all the ways that a Glimmer Tours Holy Land Pilgrimage can deepen your prayer life and provide an unforgettable adventure.