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Church of the Visitation

The Church of the Visitation (formerly Abbey Church of St John in the Woods) is a Catholic church in Ein Karem, Jerusalem, and honors the visit paid by the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. (Luke 1:39–56) This is the site where tradition tells us that Mary recited her song of praise, the Magnificat, one of the most ancient Marian hymns.[1]

Church of the Visitation
Facade, Church of the Visitation, 2019 (01).jpg
Exterior view
AffiliationRoman Catholic
LeadershipFranciscan Order
LocationEin Karem, Jerusalem
Palestine grid1651/1302
Geographic coordinates31°45′52″N 35°09′28″E / 31.76444°N 35.15778°E / 31.76444; 35.15778Coordinates: 31°45′52″N 35°09′28″E / 31.76444°N 35.15778°E / 31.76444; 35.15778
Architect(s)Antonio Barluzzi


One tradition attributes the construction of the first church of Ein Karem to Empress Helena of Constantinople, Constantine I's mother, who identified the site as the home of John's father, Zachary and the place where Elizabeth and her infant son hid from Herod's soldiers.[citation needed][dubious ]


Bellarmino Bagatti excavated the site in 1938.

Byzantine periodEdit

Archaeologists found a Byzantine cistern in the courtyard and, more significantly, the remains of a Byzantine chapel over which the later churches were erected.[citation needed]

Crusader periodEdit

From the Crusader conquest of the Holy Land onwards, three different locations in Ein Karem became connected with the life of St John the Baptist and turned into points of interest for pilgrims: a cave within the village, a site on a hill south of it, and the village's main water fountain. The events connected to the sites are the meeting between Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, the home of Zachary and Elizabeth, the birth of John, and the hiding place of Elizabeth and John. The Crusaders erected two main churches in Ein Karem, the precursors of what are today the Church of St John the Baptist and the Church of the Visitation. After the departure of the Crusaders, the different traditions shifted back and forth between the two locations.[citation needed]

At the site of the Church of the Visitation, the Crusaders erected a two-story church dedicated to the meeting between Elizabeth and Mary over the ancient ruins they found here.[citation needed].

Ayyubid and Mamluk periodEdit

When the Crusaders were pushed out of the Holy Land, the church gradually deteriorated. In the 14th century it was for a while under the care of Armenian monks, but in 1480 Felix Fabri reports: "In this chapel there are broken altars and ruined vaults; on the walls are ancient paintings, and both at the upper and the lower building shrubs and grasses grow upon the vaults. . . . Once there was here a fine and stately church, and monks dwelt in cells beside it; but now alas! it has become the ruined house of one most miserable Saracen."[2]

Ottoman periodEdit

The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land bought the plot of land with the ruined Crusader complex from an Arab family in 1679.[3]

Only in 1862 did the Franciscans begin reconstruction of the lower level of the church.[citation needed]

British Mandate periodEdit

In 1937 the Franciscans excavated the grounds. Design and construction of the upper level of the structure began in 1938, and was completed by Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi in 1955.[4]

Courtyard, statue of the Visitation


Courtyard, exterior and annexesEdit

The courtyard contains a statue of Mary and Elizabeth, and on the wall opposite the entrance to the lower church are forty-two ceramic tablets bearing the verses of the Magnificat in as many different languages. On the facade of the upper church is a striking mosaic commemorating the Visitation. Next to the church proper, a Crusader hall of the 12th century survived in good condition.

Lower churchEdit

The lower church contains a narrow medieval barrel-vaulted crypt ending with a well-head from which, according to tradition, Elizabeth and her infant drank.[citation needed] The well is connected to a Roman or Byzantine overflow pipe running under the medieval floor.[citation needed] Also preserved are remains of the ancient church and beautiful mosaic floors.[citation needed][dubious ]

The rock with a cleft next to the entrance of the medieval crypt is said to mark the site where the mountain opened up to hide Elizabeth and the infant John from Herod's soldiers – this is the "Rock of Concealment". This tradition is based on the 2nd-century apocryphal Protoevangelium of James 22:3.[citation needed]

The interior of the lower church holds Italianate frescoes depicting Zachary at the altar of the Lord, the Visitation, and Elizabeth hiding her son during the Massacre of the Innocents.[4]

Upper churchEdit

The walls of the upper church are decorated with frescoes depicting episodes such as The Wedding of Cana; the Council of Ephesus (431)which defined Mary as Theotokos or the Mother of God; the Battle of Lepanto (1571) in which a united Christian fleet defeated an Ottoman fleet, a victory ascribed to the help of the Virgin Mary and celebrated by the Catholic Church with the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Verses from the Magnificat are painted on the columns of the church.[citation needed] The ceiling is painted in the Tuscan style of the 14th century.[4]



  1. ^ The History and Use of Hymns and Hymn-Tunes by David R Breed 2009 ISBN 1-110-47186-6 page 17
  2. ^ Fabri, 1896, p. 638
  3. ^ Pringle, 1993, p. 40
  4. ^ a b c Gonen, Rivka. Biblical Holy Places: An Illustrated Guide, Paulist Press, 2000, p. 84ISBN 9780809139743


External linksEdit