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Know your Palestinian Heritage
Ein Karem is the birthplace of John the Baptist (Luke 1:57).
The Virgin Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth who lived in Ein
Karem (Luke 1:39–56); and
the Caliph ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattab passed by the village and held
prayers in it during the Islamic conquest.
Ein Karem means “Spring of the Vineyard,” and is so named
the many gardens and fields (karm) that flourish there.
The spring located there is called Ain Sitti Maryam,
"the Fountain of Mary."
Ein Karem is
an ancient scenic village in the Jerusalem District surrounded
by olive trees and vineyards. Several decades ago, it was a large Palestinian village both in
area and population. Its houses were built of limestone with
typically arched frames over their doors and windows. There is a
mosque by the Fountain of Mary that silently witnesses to the
existence of a Palestinian village before 1948. There was also a
vibrant Christian community whose main source of livelihood was
wood craftsmanship and guiding pilgrims.
Of the estimated
3,180 people who lived in Ein Karim in 1945,
2,510 were Muslims and 670
Christians. The population was made up of five clans or “hamulas” and each had a
courtyard where members of the “hamula” and their guests gathered to socialize
and celebrate special occasions. The village had two elementary schools as well
as several athletic and social clubs including a boy scouts organization. Other
sources of entertainment and information in the village included an open air
movie theater and a radio in the village café that was hooked up to loudspeakers
so that large numbers of people could listen to it.
Today, Ein Karem is inhabited by some 2,000 Israelis. One Christian Palestinian
family, exiled from the village of Iqrit (Acre District) in 1949, lives in the
village, inhabiting an old school building attached to the Franciscan monastery.
Sites in Ein Karem:
Church of St. John the
There are two churches by this name in Ein Karem. The first church on the site
was built in the 5th century. It was destroyed and reconstructed by
the Crusaders and was again destroyed after their departure. In 1621, Fr. Thomas
Obicini (of Novara, Italy) Custos of the Holy Land, purchased the Church of St.
John. In 1885, a chapel was discovered with two Roman
tombs and a mosaic with Greek inscriptions.
The other Church of St. John the Baptist is an Eastern Orthodox church built in
1894, also constructed on the ruins of an ancient church.
Church of the Visitation
There is another ancient church to the southwest of the Latin Church of St. John
the Baptist. It is known as the Church of the Visitation in memory of Mary’s
reply (also called the Magnificat) to her cousin Elizabeth during the gospel
episode of the Visitation (Luke 39-56). This famous hymn to the Lord, the
Magnificat, is presented in 41 languages on one wall outside the Church.
In 1937, the Franciscans made an archaeological survey of the
site that revealed a small natural spring which enabled a very
rustic habitation there in ancient times.
The current Church was built in 1955, also on top of an ancient
church. It was designed by Antonio Barluzzi, an Italian
architect, who designed many other churches in the Holy Land
during the 20th century.
The village’s fresh-water spring is the location where tradition
tells us that Mary met her cousin Elizabeth and sang a hymn of
praise (the Magnificat), a song of gratitude to God
The spring was repaired and renovated by Baron
Rothschild. Arab inhabitants built a
on the site in the second half of the 19th century where it
remains to the present day.
Desert of St. John
Ein el-Habis, “Spring of the Hermit,” located approximately 3 kms. from Ein
Karem, commemorates the place where St. John the Baptist spent his childhood.
First acquired by the Latin Patriarchate, it then passed
on to the Franciscans who, in 1922, erected a small convent and a chapel. The
place in which St. John lived has been transformed into a chapel and beside it
is a small spring.
- Khalidi, Walid, ed. All that Remains: The Palestinian
Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948, Washington,
D.C.: Institute for Palestine Studies, c.1992.
- Hoade, Eugene. Guide to the Holy Land, Jerusalem:
Franciscan Printing Press, 1996.
and the Palestinian Territories,
London: Rough Guides, 1998.