Nestled in the highlands of Jerusalem, between Mount Ors and Mount Herzl, is the small but iconic and ancient town of Ein Kerem. It holds a substantial place in Jewish history and is known today as a place of artistic prominence and practice. Beauty seems to be the ideal keyword for describing Ein Kerem and even the drive to the town is breathtaking, and built to accommodate the land. The roads move and curve with the mountainside, giving the entire area a very old world feel and appearance.
The History of Ein Kerem
The historic town of Ein Kerem has roots in the Old Testament mentioned in the books of Jeremiah and Nehemiah. As far as the land designation of the twelve tribes of Israel, Ein Kerem is located in what was the territory of the tribe of Judah. The historic mountain village also plays a large role in the story of Christianity. This was the place where the mother of Saint John the Baptist miraculously conceived her son. The town was also visited by the mother of Jesus during her pregnancy. The story goes that the two women met at the local town to share in their joy of being pregnant. Today the site is visited by Christians from around the world who come to sip the divine waters of the well. Wells have often been associated with women throughout several religions and Christianity is no exception. Some pilgrims even bring their own plastic water bottles to take the water back home.
The Town of Ein Kerem Today
Today Ein Kerem is home to a thriving artist community. The beauty of the landscape combined with the distinct history of the town has drawn in artists from around the world. The biblical rolling hills, iconic heritage sites, and regional legends and stories are commemorated in hundreds if not thousands of artistic renderings and representations. A few of these representations are the work of some of the most respected artists in history, including the legendary Marc Chagall, born Moishe Shagal. In 1962 he donated a series of stained glass windows to the Abbell Synagogue of the Hadassah Medical Centre. The windows are masterpieces of color, light, and composition, paying homage to the twelve sons of Jacob, their professions, accomplishments, and life histories. The concept of life history commemoration is a hallmark of many sites and sanctuaries in Ein Kerem.
The Church of Saint John the Baptist, belonging to the Franciscan order of Catholicism, is one such site. Constructed on the spot where the Saint was said to have been born, the entire structure dates back to potentially the Byzantine period. The most current additions to the Church go all the way back to the 11th century, and in the mid 20th century excavations revealed a slew of undiscovered artifacts. Some of these include a wine press, graves, and even rock cut chambers where several ceramic pieces dating to 70 AD were discovered.
The other Church that commemorates the life of Saint John the Baptist is the Church of the Visitation. The Church is located on the site where Mary was said to have sung her song of praise. The entire structure is decorated with scenes from the event including several frescos. The original mosaic floor of the Church is still visible as well. The Church also contains the legendary “Rock of Concealment” where Elizabeth and the infant John hid from Herod’s soldiers. The rock miraculously opened up and the new mother and child were able to find sanctuary. After a full day of visiting the historic sites around time, you will want to replenish yourself with a delicious meal at Atalya. Named after the head chef and owner of the restaurant, Atalya is open for private events with a menu crafted entirely by Atalya. Her dishes are inspired by the surrounding land and include corn cakes topped with sardines, focaccia, Israeli salad, and more.
Although the hustle and bustle of big city Jerusalem provides ample history, food, and events for several visits, Ein Kerem offers a more personal experience. The quiet persona of Ein Kerem and its place within the geography of the region exemplifies the charm of small town life. This is where, throughout history artists, historical figures and pilgrims have gathered to share in the majesty, history, and unique beauty of the Judean hills.