Church of St. John the Baptist

| October 17, 2012 | 0 Comments
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Deror Avi  CC BY-SA 3.0 St. John Baptist Church Against Ein Kerem Landscape

Deror Avi  CC BY-SA 3.0
Church Against Ein Kerem Landscape

St. John Baptist Church

The Church of St. John the Baptist is purposely built on the spot believed to have been the site of Zecharia’s home, where John was born. The church is instantly recognizable. Its tower looms over the landscape and can be seen from Jerusalem. As is typical of a church in Jerusalem, the St. John Baptist Church was built, destroyed, and rebuilt on the same spot again and again, as each empire asserted its imperative over the hapless residents of the town.The original church was built by the Byzantines and destroyed by Samaritans rebelling against the oppressiveness of the Byzantine regime. Next up were the Crusaders. They rebuilt the edifice only to be evicted by the next ruling power. The building fell into a state of disrepair, used as a stable for the next 400 years.

In 1621, the 12th century Crusader church was renovated by the Franciscan priest who served as custodian of the Holy Land, Tommaso Obicini da Novara. The renovation was funded by the Spanish royal family and the church opened to the public in 1675. But the story didn’t end here. Architect Antonio Barluzzi, who designed or renovated a total of 17 churches in Israel, created a new church, the one that can be seen today, to replace the 17th century structure in 1939.

Remains from the Crusader era church can still be seen. A Russian Abbot from the 12th century, Daniel, mentioned the little cave to the left of the former church’s main altar, which was believed to be the site of John’s birth.

Excavations performed on the exterior grounds of the church by Friar Sylvester Saller in 1941-1942 uncovered evidence that Jews lived here during the 1st century CE and were later replaced by pagan residents. The proof that Jews lived here is in the form of ritual baths known as mikva’ot, and the proof that pagans lived here after them is found in the form of pagan statuary (Aphrodite/Venus) and olive presses.

Юкатан  CC BY-SA 3.0 Church of the Visitation

Юкатан  CC BY-SA 3.0
Tower of Church

During the 4th-5th century CE Byzantine period, Christians used the area as a burial ground. According to a mosaic inscription found in 1885, two unnamed martyrs were buried here. At the foot of these ancient burial places, Saller found the remains of a chapel paved with mosaic tiles. A second chapel lay adjacent to the first. These elements, while not related to the story of St. John the Baptist, give testimony to the importance of the site in Christian tradition.

Church of the Visitation

The Church of the Visitation, located southwest of the Church of St. John, is reputed to be built where John the Baptist’s parents summer home was located.  This spot commemorates Mary’s visit to John the Baptist’s mother and the recitation of the “Magnificat,” a famous hymn of praise. Designed by Antonio Barluzzi, an Italian architect responsible for many of the outstanding church designs in Israel, it was completed in 1955.  Tile decorations of the Magnificat in many languages accent the design and are a highlight to any visit.


Ein Karem


Along the south-western edge of Jerusalem at the center of a green, pine-filled valley and amid tall hills standing guard from every side is the lovely village of Ein Karem. “Ein” means “spring” and “Karem” means “vineyard” or “orchard.” The road leading down to nearby Hadassah Hospital offers a breathtaking panorama from above the village. Despite its small and unassuming nature, this quiet neighborhood is a significant tourist destination and attracts three million visitors a year.


This village has been named and renamed by the many who dwelt in and conquered the land. While the early Hebrews called this area Beit Kerem, the Romans renamed it “Arene” (mountainous). Later the Crusaders rechristened the town “Montana” in reference to the hidden nature of the quaint village, surrounded as it is by the highest of Judean hills.


This is the village where, according to tradition, John the Baptist was born, son to very aged parents Elizabeth and Zecharia, after Mary, the mother of the Christian Savior, had visited her cousin Elizabeth. Zecharia, John the Baptist’s father, was from the priestly caste. Two churches in particular, the Church of St. John the Baptist and the Church of the Visitation, are associated with John the Baptist.

Church of St. John the Baptist: Did You Know?

Visiting hours for the Church of John the Baptist in Ein Karem are Monday through Saturday mornings from 8:00 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. and on Sunday mornings from 9:00 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., and Sunday through Saturday afternoons from 2:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. (in winter until 4:45 p.m.). Phone: 972-2-632-3000, Fax: 972-2-643-3451.

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Category: Christianity

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