Ein Kerem PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
Article Index
Ein Kerem
Church ofthe Baptist
Visitation Church

Church of John the Baptist

The present building, located in the midst of the village, dates from 1674, when the Franciscans, aided by the Spanish monarchy, built it on the ruins of its predecessors. Crossing the threshold, we seem to step into Spain. The paintings are by Spanish artists. The blue and white tiles almost sing of Spain. The royal family's coat of arms is behind us, above the entrance.

The church commemorates the events recounted in Luke 1: 5-25, 57-79.

Above the altar, which is dedicated to John, is a representation of Mary, flanked by statues of Zacharias in his priestly garments just to her left, and Elizabeth to her right. Left of Zacharias is Francis of Assisi in stone, and to the right of Elizabeth, Francis' colleague, Clare.

The altar may bring to mind the incense altar in the Temple, where the old priest Zacharias was officiating. An angel announced to him that he and his long barren wife were to have a son, "and you will give him the name John." Zacharias doubted what he had heard, and so the angel struck him dumb until the thing should come to pass. When it did, and his mouth was opened, his first words were these:

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people."

We find the beginning of this blessing in Latin, written over an arch on the left side of the church.  (Enlarge picture.)It forms the entrance to the grotto of the birth. The tradition for this spot goes back at least to Crusader times. Beneath the altar (given by Queen Isabella II of Spain), within a dark circle, is a smaller circle of white marble. It signifies the place where the Baptist entered the world.