The center of the ancient village evolved around the spring. The spring gave its name to the village - Ein (spring) of the Kerem (vineyard).
Since the Byzantine period (1,500 years ago) many churches have been built in Ein Kerem. Today there a few active churches and also a few monasteries. Two of the churches are named after John the Baptist, one Catholic and the other Greek Orthodox. Both were built in the late 19th century on the ruins of previous churches. The Catholic church has an ancient mosaic floor and a grotto thought to be the birthplace of John the Baptist.
The Church of the Visitation was built in 1955, on the foundations of a Crusader church built in the traditional location of the summer home where John the Baptist’s parents lived when Mary visited
The Sisters of Zion Convent, also in Ein Kerem, was built as an orphanage. Today it is home to 13 nuns who run a modest hostel. The nearby Gorny Monastery, also known as the Moscovia (because it resembles churches in
All the walking tours in Ein Kerem start at the well, which has become a famous meeting place, and any tour of the neighborhood is a spiritual experience.
The breathtaking beauty, the elegant simplicity and the charm of this place are especially touching. There is grace in every fence, wall and path, and you can wander through the alleyways for hours, enjoying every moment. Modern developments have not yet reached this scenic neighborhood, and it remains a pastoral village, cut off from the bustle of the city.
Artists inspired by Ein Kerem’s beauty have settled here to paint and display their works to the public.
Ein Kerem is truly a place worth visiting, with many charming treasures to enjoy.
(The Village) The chain of hills running from Jerusalem westwards, first forms a bend to the north, then forks towards the village of Qoloniah and finally stretches a long arm eastwards at the extremity of which there is Ain Karim. The hump is called el-'Ukud (general meaning of walls); from there during World War I Turkish-German artillery bombed the plain in the direction of Jaffa. The second section is Jebel el-Jalil (Jalil's Mount) and the last one, Beit Mazmil (Mazmil's house).
'Ain Karim (or 'Ein Karim) is the conventional transliteration of the Arabic name. The sign preceding the A, or the E, called in Arabic fasila, shows that the vowel, on which the accent falls, has a guttural sound. 'Ain means fount, fountain or spring, and is to be found in many place names: 'Ain Musa, spring of Moses; 'Ain Gedi, fount of the kid; 'Ain Medawara, round fountain. However, in each place called 'Ain there is not necessarily a spring: at 'Ain Shems, fountain of the sun, there are no springs. Karim is the vocalization of the Semitic radical group krm, vineyard. Thus we have the Fountain in the Vineyard, a well merited name in view of both the abundant water and the rich vineyards.
Another vocalization of krm could be karim (accented on the i), adjective meaning noble, generous. In such a case we would have the Copious Fount. This transliteration is considered incorrect because 'Ain is feminine and the adjective should be, therefore, karima.
The town stretches on hillsides and the bottom of a small valley. Prior to 1948, from east to west, there were three Moslem quarters which maintained the names of pre-eminent families in the region: Wa'ar Sara (Sarah's farm) on the slope east of St. John's church; Haret Dwar (Dwar's ward) and Haret el-Haraje (el-Haraie's ward). From St. John's convent to the fountain, past the main street, Haret en-Nasara (Christian quarter) and Haret el-Mascobieh (Russian quarter). The small valley between the Sisters of our Lady of Sion's compound and the church of the Visitation was the section of el-Mardi, the Gardens.
Houses are shaded by trees and all the surroundings, still at present, are green with cypresses and pine trees as at the time of pilgrim Theoderich (1172) who called the place Silvestris, the Sylvan.
The soil of the hill sides, very dark in colour, is well cultivated; vineyards and fig, apple, pear, pomegrenate, mulberry and walnut trees give the site a typical and pleasant aspect. The inhabitants' clever hands have patiently removed from the fields the stones which made it difficult, if not impossible, to cultivate corn, barley, and vegetables, and have used them to build dry walls supporting terraces and fixing the farm boundaries.
The eye is attracted by numerous towers, mostly dilapidated, scattered in the fields: they were the summer refuges of many families that, during the stifling season, lived in the country both to escape the heat and to look after the orchards with greater ease. Zechariah's example has been followed for almost two thousand years.
The presence of man at Ain Karim is attested to since the Middle Bronze Age. Archaeological findings are: jars (a terra cotta sample is kept at the Y.M.C.A., Jerusalem), a needle, cups of the so-called Jericho type, large bowls, black jugs with no decoration and small basins (kept at the Archaeological Museum, Jerusalem). Tombs, too, have been found.
Many objects of the Iron Age were also found, among which a little vase 4-5 cm. high, and a miniature cup with socket both of ceramic painted with geometric motifs on a black background; many terra cotta jars, some of which are tiny and probably served for pouring oil into oil lamps; a bracelet made of small beads, bronze rings and a spindle whorl (Museum of the White Fathers, Jerusalem). Of course tombs are not missing.
Herodian and Byzantine remnants (terraces, wine presses, tombs) give us the continuity in time, even if they do not allow a detailed reconstruction of the boundaries of the inhabited centre or of the size of each building.
We find the first reference to Ain Karim in the Jerusalem Lectionany and in the Palestinian-Georgian Calendar of Sinaiticus 34, which use the words village and hamlet (vicus, pagus). John Phocas (1177 - ELS 52) sees a castle beyond St. John's church located over the grotto; the Oxford map (1235 ca.) kept at the Corpus Christi College, Oxford, calls the place casellum (farm house) Seint Johan, while giving the name monasterium (convent) to the compound of the Holy Cross located on the road that leads from Jerusalem to Ain Karim.
James of Verona (1336 - ELS 64) supplies the first, dry information on the people: "No Christians live there, only Saracens. "In 1480 among the ruins Felix Faber sees only one miserable farmer's house. Five years later Francis - Suriano notes that "St. John in the Mountains was at one time a town; at present it is reduced to twentyfive firesides" (ELS 75). The region must not have flourished very much: in 1507 George, prior of the Chemnitz Carthusian monastery, counts only two or three huts, and Nicholas Christofer Radzivil (1538 - ELS 81) speaks of some twenty domunculas, hovels. Thus Francis Quaresmi (1626 - ELS 86) calls them also: "Past the fountain of the Virgin Mary, going along the same path, we entered a village composed of a few miserable hovels, most of them put together with stones, wood and mud, where certain rough Moors live."It seems the description of a Black African village.
Until 1674, when the Franciscans settled down permanently at St. John's, no Christians lived in Ain Karim, except for a few Armenian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox monks, referred to by only a few authors. The scanty population was made up of Saracens called also Turks (Greffin Affagart, 1533), Moors (John Cotwyck, 1596) and finally Moroccans or Maugrabins (Quaresmi, 1621).
The Franciscan Fathers conceived the idea of moving here some Bethlehemites, who should work as interpreters. Four of them arrived on 24 March 1679 followed by their families in 1681. Thus the first nucleus of the Latin parish was formed.
The Bethlehemites carried along with them the tradition crafts of their town. In fact since the 14th cent. the Franciscans had taught the people there how to carve wood and mother-of-pearl, and had developed this craft to a very fine degree of workmanship. At Ain Karim the art of wood carving flourished, lasting until the early 1940's and then it gradually died out.
Little by little, the town developed so that in 1726 Fr. E. Horn could count almost 90 houses, seven of which belonged to Christian families.
The Fathers endeavoured to give a new drive also to agriculture. Mariti, who visited the place in the spring of 1767, narrates: "However, their major concern is agriculture; and since such cultivations were started a few years ago, all trees which one sees are small, but they already bear their fruit" (p. 300), and he speaks in admiration of the determined activity carried on by the town inhabitants.
In the valley of Botrus, 6 miles southward of Ain Karim, he sees the vineyard of the Lord: "Very big are the, clusters of grapes, neither may similar ones be found in our countries... A man could not keep one intact for a long way; therefore, it is no wonder that the scouts sent by Moses to explore the Promised Land, when they returned to report about the fertility of the country, had to carry the grapes hanging from a pole supported by two of them" (p. 301-302)-.
The Cordeliers were the only representatives of the Latin Church in Ain Karim till 1860. In that year the Sisters of our Lady of Sion settled down there. They are a congregation founded by Theodore Ratisbonne and were brought to the Holy Land by his brother Alphonso (both of them were converts from Judaism). The congregation primarily aims to spread the Gospel among the Jews. In the beginning the Sisters rented a large house north-west of the Visitation, then they built the establishment standing on the western slope overhanging St. John's and the town. Fr. Ratisbonne rests in the shadow of his institution at Ain Karim.
The Sisters of our Lady of Sion were followed in 1871 by Russian monks, who built the monastery of Mar Zachariyek (St. Zechariah) on the southern slope, forming a regular Russian hamlet with a small church and hermitages for nuns. In 1882 the White Fathers (an order founded by Cardinal Lavigerie for missionary work in Africa and Asia) built a large house south of the fountain. Two years later the Orthodox Greeks had their katholicon, dedicated to St. John the Baptist; in 1911 the Sisters of the Rosary (a congregation accepting only Arab sisters) opened a house south of the path from the fountain to the Visitation. Finally, in 1912 the Franciscan Tertiary Sisters of Egypt settled down south of St. John's convent.
In 1939, after spending 12 years with the Russian nuns, Miss May Carey had a house built for herself on the hill top, south-west of the town. She wished to change the place, which she called Ras er-Rab (Mountain of the Lord), into a peace oasis and, in fact, when the house was finished, she started building a Sanctuary of Peace, Byzantine in style, and a hospice for pilgrims. The Palestinian political situation which was then rather troubled did not much help in making Miss Carey's dreams come true. Therefore, she donated the estate to the Anglican bishop, to be at the disposal of all Anglican communities that wished to live there. The Sisters of the Love of God, belonging to a contemplative order, were invited, and also members of the Society of St. John the Evangelist. In 1938 the building of other houses was started pending the arrival of the sisters and pastors, but the 1948 war interrupted the program.
The arrival and settlement of the various religious communities gradually improved the aspect and the living standards of the village. Houses, always shaky and crumbling, were repaired and rebuilt, and the population increased to about 2700 inhabitants, of which 430 Christians,(1931) and reached about 3250 in 1944. The proximity of Jerusalem made it easier to sell agricultural products and to find employment. This state of relative prosperity lasted until the 1948 war. Then the Arab population (Moslems and Christians) abandoned the region, joining that tragic tide of refugees going eastwards. Many houses remained empty; many fields were overrun by weeds, and the refugees were never allowed to return. Slowly new inhabitants came to the town, which at present is tranquil, adorned by little gardens here and there. All around Ain Karim progress is advancing. Jerusalem is no longer 5 miles from here: the huge, honeycomb-looking houses of the suburbs are laying siege and now peer down from the hill tops. Their aspect, functional and de-personalized, in a short time will alter irrevocably this oasis of charming beauty.
At Ain Karim the faith of believers, inspired by the Gospel narratives, has expressed itself in three distinct Sanctuaries. On the northern hill the Forerunner's birth is commemorated; on the southern hill, the Visitation and the hiding of the infant John, and in the nearby 'desert', John's preparation awaiting the public ministry.