The village of Ain Karem is about 4 miles west of Jerusalem, in Judea, a beautiful green and a little bit of a rough region. It is traditionally located as the home of Saint Elizabeth and Saint Zechariah.
Since the fourth century ...
The Church of the Visitation is probably the oldest of the two churches. It is attributed to St Helena (4th century), the mother of Emperor Constantine, who identified the place as the site of Zechariah's house. The church of St John the Baptist dates from the fifth century.
In both churches it is possible to see the ancient ruins. Saint Helena felt that the fountain in the Church of the Visitation was where Saint Elizabeth would have hidden when Herod sent soldiers to massacre the children of Bethlehem and surroundings, (Mt 2: 13s). In the Church of St John the Baptist, you can descend into an apse where a marker shows the place of the Saint John the Baptist's birth (Lk 1: 5-25).
... until today
The Crusaders later honored this place as the site of the encounter between the Virgin Mary and her cousin Elizabeth and they rebuilt the two churches on the ancient ruins. When the Crusaders left the Holy Land, the shrines were abandoned and they eventually deteriorated. In 1679, the Franciscans began restoration, but it was not until 1955 that everything was reconstructed, with the expertise of the architect Antonio Barluzzi.
The Church of the Visitation
Here the faithful celebrate the meeting of the Virgin Mary and her cousin Elizabeth in particular. Elizabeth greeted Mary with a great exclamation as for the Ark of the Covenant: she recognized the presence of God in her cousin and she called her "the Mother of my Lord. "(Lk 1: 39-45) The Virgin Mary sang the Magnificat, praising the great things that God had done (the Incarnation), and how His mercy is from age to age for those who fear him. She exclaimed how God had fulfilled the promise made to Abraham (Lk 1: 46-56). The Virgin Mary stayed with her cousin about three months, i.e. until the birth of John the Baptist. There are forth-two ceramic tiles on the walls of this church that retell the verses of the Magnificat in multiple languages.
The Church of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist
Excavations made in 1941-1942 around the Church of the Birth of St John the Baptist witness a long tradition of worship. The shrine built as early as the 5th century was transformed into a much larger church by the Crusaders and was then cared for by the Franciscans. On the left side of the church's nave (11th and 12th century) is a small crypt, believed to be the birthplace of John the Baptist. It is also where Zechariah, filled with the breath of God, is said to have spoken the Benedictus on the occasion of the birth of the child (Lk 1: 5-25).