Church of St. John the Baptist, Ein Karem
The Church of St. John the Baptist belongs to the Franciscan monastery of the same name. The earliest church on the site goes back to the fifth century, over the place traditionally held to be the home of Zacharias and Elisabeth.
The Crusaders took over a 11th century church, whose proportions they retained and later used by the Muslims as a caravanserai and stable, the church was rebuilt and transformed several times.
The latest additions, carried out by the Franciscans, date from the second half of last century and from the thirties of this century.
The apse of the chapel beneath the porch contains two tombs and a Greek inscription in the centre of the chancel reads, "Hail martyrs of God".
The walls of the church are covered with white ceramic tiles with blue decorations.
The opus sectile floor decoration beneath the dome is of the 11th or 12th century. Opus sectile refers to an art technique where materials, like marble, mother of pearl and glass were cut and inlaid into walls and floors to make a picture or pattern.
A stairway leads down to the so-called Grotto of the Benedictus, considered to be the place where John the Baptist was born, where the same design of opus sectile appears.
A marble star beneath the altar bears a Latin inscription: "Hic precursor Domini natus est" (Here was born the precursor of the Lord).
The cave may have started as a silo or cistern, but the birth of John the Baptist had been installed there by the 12th century.