At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
We chuckle a bit about the distance and terrain. Mary was walking from Nazareth to Ein Karem, a distance of 150 km. She would have descended the big hill from Nazareth and crossed the plain, but soon would have encountered the Samarian hills and then the Judean hills. Or perhaps she went the way of the Jordan Valley and then up the steep hills to Judea. It probably took a week even if she was on a fast donkey. Furthermore, as she was 3 months pregnant and it was June, things were likely heated up. An ardent journey for a pregnant woman but perfectly “normal” for the time.
We visited the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, now in the south-western outskirts of Jerusalem. Tradition attributes the building of the first church here to Helena, the Emperor Constantine’s mother. She had identified the site as the home of John the Baptist’s father Zachariah. Crusaders later erected a newer church here. Lost again to the Saracens for centuries, it was the Franciscans who eventually built a modern church here in 1937, the one that we visited. Since a church dedicated to the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth has existed here since Constantine times, it is very likely that this indeed was the site of this very holy meeting. There was some very lovely artwork in this church including the painting above and those below.
Another church we visited nearby was the Church of John the Baptist. It was here reputedly where John the Baptist was actually born. We learned a lot about John the Baptist on this pilgrimage. He is the last prophet and hence links the Old Testament to the New Testament. People thought he was the Messiah including his followers so he repeatedly had to deny this and prepare the way for Jesus – the logos made flesh. One account has Mary and Elizabeth being 1st cousins, so John and Jesus were related. However this is not known for sure.
We definitely were feeling blessed and privileged to have seen these holy places first hand and to begin to understand the Bible and theology at a deeper personal level.