According to tradition, the village (Ein Karem) was where the summer house of Zacharias and Elizabeth, parents to John the Baptist was located. In the scriptures Luke named the town as the “city of Juda.” Mary visiting with family was a cousin of Elizabeth. As per Luke’s Gospel, both women were pregnant during the visitation, and hence the name, “Church of Visitation.” It’s said that the baby leaped with joy in Elizabeth’s womb and Elizabeth was blessed and filled with the Holy Spirit, knowing of the miracle Mary then stayed with Elizabeth for 3 months until the birth of John the Baptist.
John the Baptist is an important figure in the New Testament in Christianity, since it is John whom proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, therefore he was regarded as the “forerunner” to the son of God. The current structure of this church is the older of two churches located at Ein Karem, in present day section of Jerusalem, Ein Karem, a beautiful picturesque village with coble stones and brick homes and buildings. The construction of the church was by the Empress Helena of Constantinople, who identified the site as the home of Zechariah and the place where he and Elizabeth hid from King Herod’s soldiers under his decree.
Crusaders as the site of visitation by Mary, and erected a two story church on the site of ancient ruins. After the Crusaders were expelled out of Israel the Holy Land, the village fell into Muslims, and in time the Church deteriorated and lay in ruins for a period.
An ancient cistern that according to tradition, Zechariah and Elizabeth drank, can also be found in the church; the stone next to the cistern is said to have hid the two from Herod's soldiers. The upper hall is dedicated to Mary, and its walls are beautifully adorned with paintings in honor of her. Verses from the Magnificat are engraved on the columns of the church.
The Franciscans acquired the building in 1679, but only began reconstruction of the lower level of the church in 1862. Design and construction of the upper level of the structure began in 1938, and completed by Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi in 1955. The interior of the church holds Italianate frescoes depicting the Visitation, Elizabeth hiding her son John the Baptist, and Zechariah next to the altar in the temple.
The church is currently held in trust by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land. The Church of the Visitations is today beautifully adorned with tiled representations in many world’s languages of the canticle Mary recited her song of praise. It is one of the most ancient hymns to Mary, and the Church is a must visit during your Christian Holy Land Tour of Israel.