Ein Kerem PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
 
  
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Ein Kerem
Church ofthe Baptist
Visitation Church
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Church of the Visitation

Taking Ma'ayan (Spring) Street southwest from the Church of St. John,  we walk to a small structure that was once a mosque. It houses the spring that gives Ein Kerem its name: the spring (ein) of the vineyard or olive grove (kerem can mean either in Biblical Hebrew). The place is not mentioned by this name in the Bible, although it may be the "Beth ha-Kerem" of Jeremiah 6:1 .

Tradition has it that Mary drank from this spring before ascending the hill to visit Elizabeth. Since the 14th century it has been known as the Fountain of the Virgin.

We climb steps westward, ascending a hill.

Ahead on our right we can see the remains of terraces that may well go back to Bible times.
 
visitation-fresco-3.jpgWe arrive at the Church of the Visitation, whose facade presents a mosaic (made in 1955) depicting Mary's visit to Elizabeth (Luke 1: 39-45:)

Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah, and entered into the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.   It happened, when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, that the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.   She called out with a loud voice, and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!   Why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?   For behold, when the voice of your greeting came into my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy!   Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord!”

Mary responds (Luke 1: 46-56):

Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord.
My spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior,
for he has looked at the humble state of his handmaid.
For behold, from now on, all generations will call me blessed.
For he who is mighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
His mercy is for generations of generations
on those who fear him.
He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down princes from their thrones.
And has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things.
He has sent the rich away empty.
He has given help to Israel, his servant, that he might remember mercy,
As he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and his seed forever.”

Mary's prayer is called the "Magnificat." It appears in 41 different languages on as many plaques in the courtyard.

The pre-Crusader church, like the present one (built in 1946), had an upper and a lower tier. So attests Abbot Daniel, mentioned above. Daniel locates here an event recounted in the non-canonical Gospel of James. During Herod's slaughter of the innocent children in Bethlehem and its vicinity, we are told, Elizabeth sought to save her baby:

But Elizabeth, when she heard that they sought for John, took him and went up into the hill-country and looked about her where she should hide him: and there was no hiding-place. And Elizabeth groaned and said with a loud voice: 0 mountain of God, receive thou a mother with a child. For Elizabeth was not able to go up. And immediately the mountain clave asunder and took her in. (Protoevangelium of James XXII 3)

In the lower church is a medieval crypt with a barrel-shaped vault. On the right after entering is a rock with a cleft. Tradition names this mark as the place where the mountain opened for mother and child.

The apse encloses the top of a well. Beneath the floor is a Roman or Byzantine overflow pipe that led to it.

The western part of the upper church is directly over this crypt. A staircase in the south wall leads to it, but the more usual access is from the courtyard, to which we return for our ascent.

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After the somber darkness of the lower church, the upper is all glory and light. On the arch above Mary appear words from the Magnificat:

For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.

Just below top of the apse, that is, below the radiance of the Holy Spirit, the angels serenade Mary and prepare to crown her with wreaths. She herself stands in a desert setting, flanked by her reverers. To the left come people bearing models of the most renowned Marian churches. Below them is Elizabeth, greeting her with the words (Luke 1: 42):

"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!"




On the south wall of the church (not visible in the photo) appear five frescoes, celebrating Mary as the Mother of God (the Council of Ephesus), the Refuge of Sinners, the Dispenser of all Grace (the marriage at Cana), and the Help of Christians (the Battle of Lepanto). The fifth fresco recalls the Immaculate Conception. The pilasters contain the verses of the Magnificat, above which we see famous women from the First Testament.

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About a mile and a half to the west of Ein Kerem is a Franciscan monastery, St. John in the Wilderness, built in 1922 on the site of a 12th-century monastery, which commemorated John's sojourn in the desert: "And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel." ( Luke 1:80