Ein Kerem is a neighborhood of Jerusalem where time has stood still. It has been associated with the biblical village of Beit Hakerem. The neighborhood has a pastoral village atmosphere which is reinforced by the lush vegetation, lovely stone buildings, old-world charm, and narrow alleyways. The area has several artist’s galleries and studios; restored historic stone homes; ancient convents and quaint cafes.
Nestled in a peaceful valley surrounded by stone-terraced agricultural plots, natural groves, and slopes covered in wildflowers, it is reminiscent of rural England. It is often called a village within a city because of its houses draped in ivy and bougainvillea with courtyard cafes, and picturesque churches. Ein Kerem (or Ein Karem, meaning “spring of the vineyard”) is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Ein Kerem is the traditional hometown of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah, and the birthplace of their son John the Baptist.
Mary’s Spring - According to tradition Mary traveled to Ein Kerem to visit her cousin Elizabeth. They met at an ancient spring (Mary’s Spring or the Fountain of the Virgin) where women would come to draw water. Both women were pregnant at the time but Elizabeth only discovered that she was with child when she met Mary and “the baby leapt in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1:39-42).
Church of the Visitation - A path leads from the spring up to the Church of the Visitation, built on the site of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s summer home where Mary stayed until Elizabeth gave birth to John. Parts of earlier churches can still be seen incorporated in the present Franciscan lower church dating back to 1862. The upper level of the church was designed by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi and completed in 1955.
The church features some beautiful frescos by Vagharini including a biblical scene where Vagharini painted Barluzzi into the crowd. The church is built into the side of the rocky slope and in the church is a niche known as the Stone of Hiding where baby John was hidden during Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents.
Church of Saint John the Baptist - The Catholic Church of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (also called St. John in the Mountain) marks the site of John the Baptist’s birth at his family home in the heart of Ein Kerem. The Franciscans bought the land and with the help of funding from the Spanish monarchy rebuilt the church incorporating elements of an earlier Crusader and Byzantine church.
The church features stunning paintings, mosaics, decorative tiles, and a grotto identified as St. John’s birthplace. The most recent renovations of the church were done in 1939 to designs by Barluzzi. This church shouldn’t be confused with a Church of Saint John the Baptist in Jerusalem’s Old City and with the 1894 Eastern Orthodox Church and Convent of St. John the Baptist, also in Ein Kerem.
Other religious sites in Ein Kerem include the 1860 Notre Dame de Sion Convent where you can enjoy tranquil gardens and stay in the convent guesthouse; and the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of All Saints of Russia (Gorny Monastery) complex where there are three churches.
Ein Kerem is famed for its culinary scene where all styles of cuisine are served up in magical courtyard restaurants and cafes. Top Ein Kerem eateries can be found on Maayan Street and Ein Kerem Street including the well-known Charlotte, Inbal, Karma, Milah, and Pundak restaurants. Culture enthusiasts should check out the Eden-Tamir Music Center where classical music is performed.
You’ll find plenty of artists’ studios and galleries simply by wandering the lanes of Ein Kerem. Art lovers will also want to see the Chagall Windows in the Abbell Synagogue of the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital (not to be confused with the Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus). In 1962 the artist Marc Chagall gifted the series of 12 stained glass windows to the people of Israel; they are located in the hospital’s Abbell synagogue. The windows are full of symbolism and typical Chagall imagery, the artist was particularly inspired by Jacob’s blessings to his 12 sons and Mosses’ blessings to the 12 tribes.
To visit Ein Kerem join one of Jerusalem Private Tours.