This itinerary was written by Sarit Peri, a tourist guide and an expert for tours in Jerusalem, Tel. 0523-943-966
For people who arrive from Tel Aviv: turn right at the Harel Interchange. Take Route 3965 and drive for few kilometers until meeting with a square. There turn left to route 395. The road winds and descends to a T Junction. Turn left to Route 386, or Ein Kerem street, the main street of the neighborhood. You can leave your car either here or near the fountain: continue by foot from across of Anashim restaurant, take the right turn (south) to Ma'ayan St. and continue to the end of the street until Maria's Spring (Hebrew: Miriam's spring), from where this itinerary begins.
Start the tour from Maria's Spring, the fountain that was called after Virgin Mary who during her visit to Ein Karem frequented the spring and drank from its water. This story underlies the Christian tradition that sanctified the spring, and during the ages Christian pilgrims that visited the site usually filled their bottles with the spring water and took it back to Europe. This spring is considers as one of the most affluent springs of Judea Mountains and it was known for the quality of its water; however, today the spring water is contaminated by runoff sewage and drinking it is not recommended.
Not far from here, near this spring, there is the settlement of Ein Kerem from the early Canaanite period, which is dated to more than 3,000 years ago. A tunnel from carved stone leads to this spring, and it was dug during the early days of the Second Temple, an epoch during which the village thrived and grew.
Above this spring, a Maqam, a sanctified place for worshipping and a mosque for the Muslims, was built one hundred years ago and used also as a local school. Today it symbolizes the Muslim village of Ein Kerem, which was founded during the 16th century and the minaret, the towering cylindrical structure, is what remained from this Maqam.
in addition, this place was visited by Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi, the wife of the second president of Israel, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who during 1949 decided to establish the deserted village of Ein Kerem a children's village and an institution for agricultural education for orphans at.
Forty years before that, Rachel made her first visit to Ein Kerem and she wrote about it in her memories:
I remember visiting Ein Kerem together with Ben Zvi and Y.H. Brenner [an author and a publicist, 1881-1921]. It was winter 1909. One Saturday Brenner arrived from Jaffa to our house, and we went together with him to see Ein Kerem. The day was bright and radiant as a spring day. Our spirits were high when we entered Ein Kerem and stood at the top of the valley, enchanted by the beautiful scenery which revealed in front of our eyes. Mountains in either side of the valley. In our spirit's eyes, we envisioned an ancient Hebrew village… Fellah [Arabic: farmer] houses, monasteries, and glorious churches, and in front of our eyes – the much-praised spring with its water running off to form a muddy puddles and a playground for the Arab kids that were indulged in playing inside the water.
In the same vein it is recommended today to visit Ein Kerem during winter, and especially during January-February, during the blossoming of the almond trees that shreds Ein Kerem with its heart-warming bridal white.
Take the route from the spring and ascend toward the church. The path passes near the Ein Kerem Music Center, the private abode of the pair pianists Bracha Eden and Alexander Tamir. This was the dwelling place of the local sheik, the village-head.
In this house lived hajj Isma'il in 1883. When General Charles Gordon visited Ein Kerem, he chose this house as his domicile. This visit was prolonged for a whole year, with intent to research stories of the New Testament. Moved by the General decision to dwell in his house rather than in the guest rooms of the Franciscan Monastery, hajj Isma'il gave the general a present – a white donkey and a servant named Ali. In one occasion, Ali bestowed his master with a mulberry tree plant and the General planted it at the sheik's yard, which still grows here until this very day.
The General Charles Gordon was enchanted by the image of John the Baptist and he was speaking about him frequently. After one year, he was commissioned to serve in Sudan, from which he never returned. Surprisingly, his destiny was similar to that of st. John's: he was beheaded in January 1 1885 in Khartoum, Sudan's capital.
Continue to walk up to the church and pass next to the gate of the Rosary Monastery, the sisterhood of the rosary bead, which was built in 1909 and currently serves as an orphanage.
Enjoy the beautiful view from the square of the church– the landscape of Sorek River with the Beit Zayit levee and lake at its midst. The levee was erected during the 1950' and then it became evident that the water of the lake permeates through the soil and emanates as a spring at Ein Fuwar (Hebrew: Ein Maboa) at Wadi Kelt [about 15 kilometers to the east, in Judea Desert canyon].
At the right side of the levee locate Moshav Beit Zayit, and at its left side – the agricultural school of Beit Zayit, originally the Children's Village of Rachel Yanait Ben Zvi that was relocated to here.
Identify on top of the mountain the houses of Motza Ilit (Upper Motza), Mevaseret-Zion and Hacastel (Maoz Zion). Look down to the valley below, and identify HaMa'ayan Stream with its lush of ancient agriculture – the terraces and stonewalls – a cultivating method that prevents soil erosion.
The bronze statues of Elizabeth and Zechariah welcome the visitors at the entrance gate. Their story is told in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1. The tale about the elderly couple is quite succinct. Elizabeth spent many years of her life in the village Beit HaKerem and she never imagined that her fate will be similar to that of Sara, one of the Four Matriarchs, Hannah, the mother of Samuel and wife of Manoah (Samson's father) that were all regarded by God and by the gift of a son during old age.
Her husband, Zechariah, was a priest in the Temple, and during his sacrificial work an angel was revealed to him and told him that his wife was going to have a baby boy. Because he found this news hard to believe, he was struck voiceless by the angel and became mute. And then Elizabeth indeed became pregnant and simultaneously, her relative, Maria of Nazareth, became also pregnant and had a child. Maria who carried Jesus in her womb "went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah and to visit Elizabeth" at Ein Kerem.
During the visit, the child leapt with joy inside her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. After blessing her, Maria answered to Elizabeth and chanted My Soul Glorifies the Lord (Luke 1:46). The hymn that Maria sang is called Magnificat, and it is here, at the churchyard, that over 50 ceramic tiles with the hymn words are written in 50 languages. The language of this canticle resembles that of The Song of Hannah (Samuel 2:1-10).
Elizabeth gave birth and wanted that her child would be named John, according to the practice of calling the son after his father's name. Zechariah, when being asked which name to give the boy, wrote on a writing table "John". The curse was relieved, his mouth was opened immediately, and he spoke.
During St. John's childhood, King Herod had sent his soldiers to slaughter all the sons of the Tribe of Judea, because a prophecy claimed that the Messiah would be born in Judea. Elizabeth ran away with the child and hided in an enclave in a rock, which miraculously, to the sound of her supplications, had cleaved, opened up and supplied her a shelter. As an adult, St. John went to the desert where he preached near Jordan River and baptized there his followers, among them his cousin Jesus of Nazareth. According to tradition, the church was built by Hellena, mother of the emperor Constantin, in 324 AD.
During the aftermath of the Revolt of Bar Kokhba, the Jewish settlement in Ein Kerem was deserted and the place was left in its desolation until it was inhabited by Samaritans in 1st Century AD who called it Arene ("The Mountainous" in Greek) and during the 2nd Century AD it recovered its importance and centrality.
The Roman emperor Hadrianus demolished any tokens of a Jewish culture from Ein Kerem and replaced them with statues of gods. Arene was deserted until Hellena’s visit . When she arrived to the abandoned village and saw all of the remains of Roman temples, she decided that St. John was born at the center of the village, and that Elizabeth' abode was at the mountainside. At these two locations she built two huge and impressive churches. The Byzantine churches of Hellena were erased during the Persian conquest in 614.
On 1099 the Crusaders reached the Land of Israel, found the ruined churches and restored them. They dedicated the church that we see in front of us to the visit that Maria paid to Elizabeth, and to this day it is called The Church of the Visitation. Examine its outstanding façade and notice the mosaic work of the artist Bigoti who in 1943 transposed the artwork as it was from the Vatican to Palestine. The mosaic depicts the arrival of Maria, riding on a donkey, in her way from Nazareth to Ein Kerem. Below there is a script, "and Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judea."
The lower church has some impressive frescoes that tell the stories of Zechariah's worship at the Temple, Maria's meeting with Elizabeth, and Elizabeth fleeing from the Romans and concealing her son John in the rock. Behind a grill there is the rock that hid John and an inscription in Italian pietra del nascondiment, "the stone in which John was concealed".
The frescoes here are the artwork of Cesare Vagarini who after arriving here on 1941, was deported by the British as for being a citizen of a hostile country. He retuned back in 1949, and this time the well-known artist Mordechai Ardon, an Israel Prize laureate, was his apprentice until the Vatican put an end to it by demanding to stop the work of the Jewish artist.
The mosaic at the central part depicts Francis who dedicates the Church of the Visitation to Maria, a mosaic which is based on the remains of the Crusader mosaic. Additional frescoes are located on the southern wall of the church and portray the dispense of all grace (the marriage at Cana), celebrating Maria as the Mother of God, and paintings of other feminine figures of the Scriptures. The church was completed on 1954 by the famous architect Antonio Barluzzi.
At the end of your visit to the church, descend back to the spring, and ascend through the Ma'ayan Street back to the main street of Ein Kerem. Cross the street and follow it to where most of Ein Kerem restaurants are located in. Notice on your right side a small coffee house named Sweet'n Karem - it is a paradise for chocolate lovers…Continue straight until the gate of St John Church.
At this place Hellena built the Byzantine church, and after some hundred of years, the Crusaders rebuilt here a church and dedicated it to St. John. The song Zechariah sang for the birth of his son John, Benedictus, is written on the walls that surround the open yard. Cross the beautiful atrium and enter the church.
The orthogonal church building is called Basilica and it was adapted by the Christian world from Roman architecture. The basilica is consisted of a nave, a middle court, two lateral aisles which are divided by two lines of columns. Three apses are located on the anterior front of the church. In the central apse, try to identify paintings of Maria, Elizabeth and St. Zechariah, and also a painting of John the Baptist.
The left apse is essentially the holiest place of this church, the cave in which Elizabeth had gave birth to St. John. At the path that descends down to the apse notice the painting of the benediction of Jesus by St. John in the Jordan River. In the central apse there are two marble statues: the right one is of St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order that established this church and the Church of the Visitation. The Franciscan order was established during the 13th century by the disciples and followers of St. Francis. The other at the left side of the apse is of St. Clair who was a disciple of St. Francis and earned from him the title "the Bride of the Messiah". St Clair was the founder of the Order of Poor Ladies, or the Poor Clares.
In 29 AD St. John was arrested by Herod Antipas and met with a horrible end: his head was cut off, and the head was given on a tray to Salome, daughter of the second wife of Herod. The painting on the southern wall of the church depicts the beheading of St. John by Herod, an artwork of the Spanish painter Ribalta from the 16th century. On the church's walls there are paintings that depict the fourteen Stations of the Cross, the Via Dolorosa, a characteristic theme in all Catholic churches. This church, unlike The Church of the Visitation, has more verve and activity in it because of the energetic community of monks that meticulously keep the rituals and prayers around the year.
After exiting from the church turn right immediately. Ein Kerem is the dwelling place of many artists who left behind them the hustle of the big city and built their home here. In case that you’ll go right, visit the ceramics studio and tile paintings of the artist Ruth Havilio, and enjoy the spirit of Ein Kerem that fills her artwork. Walk down the alley, cross the street, and continue straight. In front of the Bible Times Learning Center turn right and head toward the Sisters of Our Lady of Zion monastery.
Ring the entrance bell and enter the convent, into the beautiful and impressive compound that keeps behind its stone walls the peacefulness and quiet of the Sisters of Our Lady of Zion's garden. Walk through its paths and enjoy its beauty. In 1860 a converted Jew, Alphonse Ratisbonne, arrived to Ein Kerem, and like many others before him, fell in love with the place, and decided to establish on this lofty hill a home for God and for orphaned girls.
He exerted an interesting trick to purchase the land: the landowner demanded for this lot a huge amount of money – 200,000 francs, which was considered too high. However, the landowner did not know that that he was bargaining with a grandchild of the French financial minister. Ratisbonne didn't lost his wits and he contrived with a friend from Ein Kerem, Yosef Tanus, a privy expedient, and started to operate a liaison in Beirut who allegedly was interested in purchasing this lot, and succeeded, because of a recommendation letter from the pasha in Jerusalem, to purchase this land for 70,000 francs. The greedy landowner joyfully announced Ratisbonne that he had lost the deal because it was already sold to a prosperous man from Beirut, but how deep was his sorrow when he discovered that on that same week the estate was resold by a mysterious Lebanese to Ratisbonne himself …
Ratisbonne built here an orphanage for girls, and many orphans from the neighboring countries found haven in this place, and later his private home was built here too. This place serves as an abode for nuns of the Sisters of Our Lady of Zion order that was founded by Ratisbonne. In Jerusalem there are two additional convents of the same order, one in Rehavia, and the other in the Muslim Quarter at the Old City.
Notice the silence of this place, and the comeliness of the well-attended garden inside the convent. The compound is not being used as an orphanage anymore, but as a modest and pleasant guesthouse. The central building that used to accommodate the girls serve now as guestrooms, and the building that juxtapose the church hosts the dining-room and kitchen and another church of the nunnery.
like in many other convents and monasteries, this place serves also as a haven of austerity and simpleness with its main function to serve as a home for its nuns. The stain glasses at the apse depict the images of Moses and Elijah. It is important to pause and note that this order places a special emphasis on the study of Judaism, the link between Judaism and Christianity, and most of the nuns even speak Hebrew.
Among the paintings on the walls, notice again the theme of the fourteen Stations of the Cross of the Via Dolorosa of Jesus. Occasionally the church is being used due to its extraordinary acoustics for organized concerts and liturgical music.
Continue to stroll down the garden, enjoy the pristine air and atmosphere and reach until the beautiful belvedere at the Carob Garden. The views that are seen from here are of the Sorek River below, Mt. Heret and Mt. Eitan across, and the buildings of Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital on the near hill. If you would find it interesting, visit the small cemetery and the tomb of Alphonse Ratisbonne from 1884 within it which is further away from here. A statue of Maria with an epitaph of his last wards "Oh Maria, remember thy son who was conquered by your love" designates his burial place. It's also the burial place of girls and nuns that shared their lives at this place, and from the names which are etched on the gravestones you can learn that some of them were Jews.
Exit the cemetery and go back to the entrance gate. Notice in your way out the 19th reservoirs for rainfall collection that used to supply water to Ein Kerem. Exit the convent and turn right, descend down at Oren St. that leads back to HaMa'ayan St. from where the tour began. Notice in your way the impressive Russian Church on the mountainside of Orah Mount – a building with five "onions" of the tented roof, as typical to other Russian churches.
This is the church of Yelizavetta Fyodorovna, the princess who became a nun. The church is located at the middle of the Russian village of Ein Kerem, which is also known as Moscovia. The building was initiated by Yelizavetta on 1905 after her husband, Duke Sergey, was assassinated, but with the onset of First World War, the construction works were interrupted, and due to Yelizavetta's and the rest of Russian royal family's assassination in 1917 it stood undone and was completed only one hundred years later on 2005.
Further away from here there is another church that looks quite deserted. This Greek Church of Ein Kerem was built at the end of the 19th century. This place had been kept and maintained by a nun who also painted most of its impressive frescos, but with her death it was closed to visitors and only rarely it was reopened to the public.