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A Tour of Ein Kerem

The Jerusalemite rural neighborhood of Ein Kerem offers a leisurely tour that is full of charm and atmosphere among churches, monasteries and wonderful views. Especially recommended during the winter when the almond trees flower
by: Israel Traveler   |   08.01.2012

The Jerusalemite neighborhood of Ein Kerem, located in the south-western area of the capital city, is a place that offers a special atmosphere and wonderful views, which until the Israeli War of Independence was an Arab village. The neighborhood, which still enjoys a rural character, is a popular tourist site for Israelis on the weekends, but it is also considered a pilgrimage site, as here, according to Christian tradition, John the Baptist was born. A tour of Ein Kerem passes through beautiful alleys, stone houses decorated with flowers, churches and monasteries. It is of course also recommended to find a comfortable spot in one of the local cafés or restaurants here and just enjoy.

The Church of St. John in the Mountains, located in the neighborhood of Ein Kerem in Jerusalem, is a Catholic church that belongs to the Franciscan order. The Church of St. John in the Mountains was founded in the Crusaders period about 800 years ago and was built on top of the ruins of a Byzantine church. The church, with its prominent bell tower, is named after St. John the Baptist, who according to Christian tradition was born in the cave that is located here. Here can be found the remains of the mosaic floors of Byzantine prayer chapels, a small statue of Venus from the Roman period as well as agricultural devices from the Second Jewish Temple period which include wine presses, water cisterns and olive presses. In 2004 a Mikveh (a Jewish ritual bath) from the same period was found here. The Church of St. John in the Mountains is decorated with paintings which depict scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist.

Mary's Spring is a small spring located in the Ein Kerem neighborhood in Jerusalem, around which the settlement has developed. The spring is named after Mary, Jesus’ mother, who came here to visit Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother, when they were still pregnant. The Church of the Visitation, which is situated up the mountain, is also named after this visit. According to tradition, Mary drank from the water of this spring and thus it is sacred to the Christians who come here to visit it. But sacredness aside, the spring’s water is polluted with sewage and thus it is absolutely forbidden to drink from it.

The Church of the Visitation in the Ein Kerem neighborhood of Jerusalem is a Catholic church that is located up a mountain. It is named in honor of the visit paid by Mary, Jesus' mother, to the house of her relative Elizabeth, John the Baptist's mother. According to Christian tradition this is the site of the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, John the Baptist's parents. Here can be found the remains of a Byzantine church and a Crusaders church, and on top of them there is a magnificent modern 20th century church (that was inaugurated in 1955), which was built by the famous Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi, who is responsible for many impressive churches around Israel in general and Jerusalem in particular. From the ancient Byzantine church a cave survived, in which, according to Christian tradition, Elizabeth hid her son, John the Baptist, during King Herod's Massacre of the Innocents in which Herod had all of Bethlehem’s children of two years of age and younger killed. The church is designed as a summer house, with a mat floor and vine ceiling. These floral designs are made of mosaics. From the Crusaders church a few walls have survived which were integrated into the modern church. Its fa?ade faces the courtyard and features a large mosaic which depicts the Visitation. The modern church includes a bell tower and it is decorated with huge murals which describe various scenes from the New Testament. In the courtyard there are ceramic tiles bearing verses from Mary’s Magnificat in 47 different languages.

The Sisters of Our Lady of Zion Convent, hidden inside a stone wall, is one of the most beautiful places of Ein Kerem. The Convent was built about 150 years ago on a hill which faces the charming view of Mount Eitan and Sataf. The Sisters of Our Lady of Zion Convent, which originally served as an orphanage for Christian girls from Lebanon, was built by Alphonse Ratisbonne, a Jew from Strasbourg who converted to Christianity and founded a few monasteries and Catholic institutions in Jerusalem and around the world. At the Convent live nuns who belong to the order of the Sisters of Our Lady of Zion which was founded by Ratisbonne. Beside the convent there is also a well-kept garden here with fruit, pine, oak and carob trees as well as many geraniums and ivies, a lovely church and a modest inn (note the beautiful wooden shutters etched with the shape of a heart). The complex of the Sisters of Our Lady of Zion Convent also includes the house in which lived Ratisbonne himself. The house serves today as a museum which tells about his life and presents his pictures, personal items and furniture.

Gorny Monastery is a Russian Orthodox Monastery which was built in Ein Kerem in 1871 as a part of Russia’s attempt to establish its hold in the Holy Land. For this reason it was also named "Moskovia" after the city of Moscow. The Gorny Monastery spreads over hundreds of dunams and includes three churches – two small and one big. The large church, the Church of the Holy Trinity, has domes and golden crosses by which this place is recognized. The initiative for the founding of this church was that of Elizabeth Feodorovna, the wife of the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia who was responsible for the Russian pilgrimage in Jerusalem. The construction of the church started in the beginning of the 20th century but has stopped after the murder of Feodorovna by Bolsheviks and it was completed only in 2004. The entrance to the church is allowed only to pilgrims. At the Gorny Monastery live 48 Russian nuns and 2 priests who run the prayer services. The complex, with its well-kept gardens and stone houses, includes the living quarters of the nuns, an inn for pilgrims and a cemetery. One can usually visit the Gorny Monastery during prayer times except on Sundays. The entrance to the Gorny Monastery is through the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital.

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