Ein Kerem, in Hebrew the “Spring of the Vineyard” is an ancient Picturesque village of the Jerusalem District and now a neighbourhood in southwest of Jerusalem. According to Christian tradition this is the place where Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, miraculously became pregnant. This is also where he was born. Tradition teaches that during her pregnancy, Elizabeth was visited by a family relative – Mary, who was also pregnant, with Jesus. The two women met beside the village well and Mary drank from its cool waters. That place is now called Mary’s Well. The village around the well grew and its waters are considered holy. Many pilgrims come to drink from the well and take the holy water away with them in bottles.This tradition leading to the establishment of many churches and monasteries.
There are two Churches by the name of St. John the Baptist. One is a Catholic church built in the second half of the 19th century on the remnants of earlier Byzantine and Crusader churches. Inside are the remains of an ancient mosaic floor and a cave where, according to Christian tradition, John the Baptist was born. The church has been in the hands of the Franciscans since 1674. In 1941–1942 they conducted excavations in the area immediately west of the church and the adjoining monastery. Several rock-cut chambers and graves were found, as well as wine presses with mosaic floors and small chapels with mosaic tiling. The southern rock-cut chamber contained pottery of a type found elsewhere in Jerusalem, probably from the first century CE. The other church is an Eastern Orthodox church built in 1894, also on the remnants of an ancient church.
Another ancient church at Ein Kerem is the Church of the Visitation,located across the village to the southwest from St. John’s. The ancient sanctuary there was built against a rock declivity. It is venerated as thepietra del nascondimento, the “stone in which John was concealed,” in reference to the Protevangelium of James. The site is also attributed to John the Baptist’s parental summer house, where Mary visited them. The modern church was built in 1955, on the top of ancient church remnants. It was designed by Antonio Barluzzi, the Italian architect, who designed many other churches in the Holy Land during the 20th century.
The monastery the Sisters of Our Lady of Zion was founded by two brothers from France, Theodore and Marie Alphonse Ratisbonne, who were born Jewish and converted to Christianity. They established an orphanage here. Alphonse himself lived in the monastery and is buried in its garden.
Another Monastery is the Moscovia Monastery, Built by the Russian Orthodox Church at the end of the 19th century, this church (originally “Gorny Monastery” was nicknamed “Moskovia” by the local Arab villagers, because of its tented roof similarity to other Russian churches. The monastery has two churches enclosed within a compound wall.