Not far from the center of Israel,
immersed in greenery and surrounded with mountains and a holy atmosphere,
you can find a small gem called Ein Kerem,
a part of Jerusalem,
but separated from it with a quiet and relaxed ambiance.
The place is rich with vegetation,
green-clad houses and fruit trees in every yard,
such as olive trees, almond trees and grapevines.
Ein Kerem is also known for its sacred sites for Christianity and draws many pilgrims and tourists who are coming to visit the monasteries and the churches of Ein Kerem.
if you wish to tour Israel in style you must include a visit to Ein Kerem and/ its holy sites.
Jewish, Christian and Muslim
Ein Kerem was a flourishing Jewish settlement during the First and Second Temple period,
the home of Zechariah Hacohen,
a Cohen at the Temple, his wife Elisheba and his son Yohanan,
who later on became known as “Yohanan the Baptist” and as the herald of Christianity.
Since the 14th century,
Ein Kerem was the home of Muslims and Christian Arabs who lived together alongside monks and priests arriving from Europe.
during the War of Independence,
all of Ein Kerem’s residents fled their homes leaving it for the Jewish settlers who took,
preserving the original view in the face of new and modern construction.
Just a few minutes’ walk from the parking lot,
descending east on The Fountain street,
is Miriam Fountain, Jesus’ mother.
This is an open stone tunnel with running waters that are sacred to Christianity.
The place is attributed to Second Temple period and according to Christian tradition and belief,
this is the place where Miriam visited her relative Elisheba, Yohanan the Baptist’s mother.
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Church of the Visitation
climbing tens of wide stairs,
you can see on your right a magnificent view of the Judaean mountains and on your left,
up above, is the Church of Visitation.
The church was built in 1955,
and is attributed to the same visit paid by Miriam to Elisheba,
while they were both pregnant as can be seen from the statue of both women, located in the church.
At the entrance plaza, you can see 70 porcelain slabs covered with writings in 70 various languages which are believed to be a psalm,
a Magnificat, attributed to Miriam blessing Elisheba with singing.
At the entrance level of the church, you can find a crypt with a small cave and a fountain,
as an indication to the summer house of Zechariah Hacohen.
The Crypt exhibits the remains of the rock behind which, as is believed, hid Elisheba with her baby Yohanan during the Hordes massacre.
The walls of the upper level of the church are covered with large wall paintings describing Christian history and events in Maria’s life,
as well as women from the bible,
such as Sarah, Rachel, Deborah and Queen Ester.
The church is closed between 11:45 and 14:30
On the hillside above Ein Kerem neighborhood,
you can see the five shining domes of the Gorney-Moskovya monastery.
This is a Russian Orthodox compound, built 140 years ago in the attempt to establish a meaningful Russian presence in the holy land.
It includes two small churches, one big church, nun residents, a guesthouse for pilgrims and a cemetery.
The big church, named after Yelizaveta Petrovna,
represents the tragic story of this Prince’s wife,
who initiated the construction of the big church but was murdered during the Russian revolution in 1917.
The building of the church was completed only in 2004,
and so it is nick named “the unfinished church”.
Today the compound is occupied by Russian nuns.
The Sisters of Zion Monastery
Behind the monastery walls hides a lovely garden,
a beautiful lookout point and a friendly welcome.
residing on a northern hill in Ein Kerem was established 150 years ago,
as a sanctuary for Maroon-Christian orphan girls from Lebanon.
The ground was bought by a converted Jew, Alphonse Ratisbonne,
who came from France and became a Jesuit priest.
With his brother, Theodor, also a converted Jew, they established the international Order of nuns known as the Sisters of Zion.
The compound includes a guesthouse,
located where the orphanage once operated and a cemetery.
The church itself, built in 1884,
is located at the highest point of the compound, surrounded by a beautiful, well-groomed Mediterranean garden with a nice viewpoint located just behind the guesthouse.
Inside the church,
represented on two modern panels,
you can find the 14 stops of the Via Dolorosa,
designed by a Jewish artist who lived in Ein Kerem during the 60th as was a friend of the nuns.
At the center of garden hides the humble home of Ratisbonne,
who was turned by the nuns into a museum exhibiting his original pictures, furniture and clothing.
The garden is open for visitors until 17:00 pm and if the entrance gate is closed, just press the buzzer and ask to go in side for a walk in the garden.
Saint Yohanan Church
The church is a small Greek Orthodox church located in the Christian quarters of Ein Kerem,
in a compound on a hill, right above the parking lot.
The church, surrounded by walls, was built in the 19th century but holds ancient finds from the Second Temple period,
including a Mikveh.
Inside the church, there is a cave,
which is believed to be the birthplace of Yohanan the Baptist,
who used to baptize Christian believers in the Jordan river, including Jesus.
Inside the church, you can see pictures describing Jesus’ Via Dolorosa and what is believed to be a bone from Yohanan’s skull.
The church was destroyed in 1244 and renovated in 1842 when a new church was built on top of the old one.
The church is closed between 11:45 and 14:30.
Restaurants and Entertainment
Apart from the sacred sites,
you can also enjoy a visit to the artist’s homes and see them in their exquisite work, dealing with ceramics, jewelry, clothing, and music.
You can also enjoy the fine coffee shops and restaurants of Ein Kerem,
one of which is the Brasserie restaurant, with its balcony overlooking the magnificent view and some good food.
There are also a number of boutique hotels residing in ancient buildings, where you can rest and continue your tour in Israel.