|The Church of John the Baptist seen in the vale of En Kerem|
Zacharias was a temple priest, but there were so many priests in that era that they only actively served in the temple a few weeks a year. The rest of the year they lived in their own homes throughout the land. In the case of Zacharias and his wife, Elisabeth, that home was in "a city in the hill country of Judah" (Luke 1:39). Since Byzantine times, that city has been identified with the village of En Kerem, now a beautiful suburb west of Jerusalem whose name means "Spring of the Vineyard."
|The Russian Orthodox monastery on one of the hills around En Kerem|
|One of the terraced hillsides of En Kerem|
Immediately after this, Luke switches scenes to Nazareth (give me a few weeks, we go to Galilee two weeks from tomorrow) for the story of the Annunciation to Mary (Luke 1:26-38). As part of that, Gabriel told Mary that her relative (KJV "cousin") Elisabeth was also miraculously pregnant. That led Mary to travel to the hill country of Judah to visit Elisabeth and Zacharias.
According to early Christian tradition, the village's spring, for which the modern town is named, was the place where Mary and Elisabeth met. The spring still runs from under a mosque.
|Elaine, Samuel, and Rachel by Mary's Spring|
|Detail of the spring as it flows today from under the mosque|
|Church of the Visitation|
|Mosaic on the front of the church showing Mary traveling to En Kerem|
|Grotto beneath the church|
|Painting of the meeting of Elisabeth and Mary inside the church|
|Rachel and Elaine in front of a statue of Mary meeting Elisabeth|
Rachel took the part of Mary. My daughter is 14. We do not know Mary's age at the time, but she may easily have been that young, making Rachel's reading particularly touching.
Lower down the hill is a church dedicated to John the Baptist. In a grotto under it is the traditional spot of the prophet's birth. In the courtyard in front of it are numerous plaques, each with a translation of the Benedictus into different languages. The Benedictus is the second Lucan canticle. Though it is ostensibly the blessing that Zacharias pronounced upon his son at John's circumcision and blessing, most of it is actually about the coming Christ.
|Entrance to the John the Baptist Church|
|My family in front of the plaque with the English translation of the Benedictus|
|Inside the church|
|The entrance to the Grotto, with the beginning of the Benedictus in Latin: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel who has visited . . ."|
|Under the altar in the grotto is the traditional spot of John's birth. The Latin inscription says "Here the precursor of the Lord was born"|