Sing: Blessed Be the God of Israel, UMH 209
Christian tradition places the birth of John the Baptist— who proclaimed the coming of Jesus, his cousin — in the picturesque village of Ein Karem, four miles west-south-west of old Jerusalem. Ein Karem is still a tranquil place of trees and vineyards, but the municipality of Jerusalem has spread to incorporate the former Arab village. It is now a town of Jewish artisans and craftspeople, but Christian churches and convents abound.
The Catholic Church of the Nativity of Saint John, identifiable by its tall tower topped by a round spire is also called “Saint John in the Mountains”, a reference to the “hill country” of the Scriptures. The church combines remnants of many periods. An early church on this site was used by Muslim villagers for their livestock before the Franciscans recovered it in the 17th century. The Franciscans built the present church with the help of the Spanish monarchy a major remodeling was completed in 1939.
Inside the church, the high altar is dedicated to Saint John. To the right is Elizabeth’s altar. To the left are steps leading down to a natural grotto— identified as John’s birthplace and believed to be part of his parents’ home. A chapel beneath the porch contains two tombs. An inscription in a mosaic panel reads, in Greek, “Hail martyrs of God”. Whom it refers to is unknown.
Ein Kerem is a pleasant place of sidewalk cafes and shop-lined streets. After we entered the church compound some of our group enjoyed a coffee from the gift shop and others read the plaques engraved with the Canticle of Zechariah in many different languages while we waited our turn to enter the church. The church is a quiet place of tranquil beauty and prayer. Our visit here was a good preparation for our next stop.