Ein Karem is a neighborhood in southwestern Jerusalem that is important to Christian tradition because it is the “city of Judah”, where John the Baptist was born (Luke 1: 39).
Since Byzantine times various churches and monasteries have been built in Ein Karem commemorating events connected with John the Baptist. One of the churches is the Church of John the Baptist, located in the central square of the village. It was built in the second half of the nineteenth century on the ruins of three churches, two Byzantine and one Crusader, with the financial support of the Spanish court. The magnificent church is decorated with scenes from the lives of John the Baptist and Jesus. Above the central altar is a painting of Mary’s visit to Ein Karem attributed to the renowned Spanish painter el Greco (1541-1614).
The painting on the southern wall describes the slaying of John the Baptist and is attributed to Ribalta, a well-known seventeenth-century Spanish painter. To the left of the main altar is the cave of John the Baptist, which is believed to be where Elisabeth, while hiding from Herod’s soldiers, gave birth to John the Baptist. The beautiful marble altar in the cave was a present from Queen Isabella of Spain in 1851.
The second important church is the Church of Visitation. The modern church was built in 1955 by the well-known Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi, commemorating the Visitation. Christian tradition identifies the church with the summer house of Zacharias and Elisabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. It was here that the meeting is said to have taken place between the two pregnant women: Mary, who was soon to give birth to Jesus, and Elisabeth, who was carrying John the Baptist (Luke 1: 39-56). In the courtyard of this church are forty-seven ceramic plaques on which appear, in the same number of languages, the “Magnificat” – Mary’s prayer of thanks while she carried Jesus in her womb (Luke 1: 46-56). On the second floor, one can see the remains of a Crusader church which are integrated into the modern walls. This floor is decorated with impressive wall paintings portraying events and traditions in Christian history.
In addition to the two churches, Ein Karem also includes a number of monasteries and other Christian institutions. These were built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The most outstanding of them is the Convent of the Sisters of Zion (serving today as a hostel), the Russian Monastery (which spreads over a large area running down to the village) and the convents of the Sisters of the Rosary and Saint Vincent de Paul, which serve as institutions for orphans and the sick.
The churches with their spires, the picturesque houses, the terraced hillside around the village and its special location among the surrounding hills, make Ein Karem one of the more charming corners of Jerusalem and a fantastic place for Film Productions related to Christianity.