The cave of St. John the Baptist is a relatively new place of pilgrimage in the Holy Land – Israel. Many archaeologists have researched the place and its data, then the its authenticity. Archaeologist Shimon Gibson is the one who discovered the place and also the one supporting its authenticity.
Shimon Gibson discovered the place in 1999, through an extensive archaeological research. To get here, pilgrims can take the bus from Jerusalem to Ein Karem and the holy cave is but about four kilometers from Ein Karem..
St. John the Baptist – The last prophet of the Old Testament – had a divine mission hard to imagine: he, the servant of God, had to baptize his Master, Jesus Christ.
But until the time of Baptism of our Lord, St. John had lived an unspeakable ascetic struggle into the wilderness.
Even from the time of his birth, Saint John was seen as a work of God and a great mystery. Many words of wonder were said about John: “What will this child be? For the hand of God was with him.” (ad. from Lk). No one knew what would happen with this child, even though his father – priest Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied saying:
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
for he has visited and worked redemption for his people;
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
(as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets who have been from of old),
salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show mercy towards our fathers,
to remember his holy covenant,
the oath which he spoke to Abraham, our father,
to grant us 74that being delivered out of the hand of our enemies,
we should offer him divine services without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him,
all the days of our life.
And you, child, [you] will be called a prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the remission of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the dawn from on high will visit us,
to shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death;
to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Lk. 1, 68-79)
The Gospel would not tell us much about the life of Saint John. St John lived in the time of our Savior Christ, and so more focus is placed on Him. The Scripture of Luke, however, referring to St John it ends saying: “The child was growing up and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his public appearance to Israel.” (Luke 1, 80)
(see Eastern Orthodox New Testament translation at: http://www.orthodox-church.info/eob/download/nt6x9.pdf for the biblical passages)
It is believed that the cave of St. John the Baptist is a place in the “wilderness” where the saint lived up to the time of his preaching and baptism of our Lord. The rocky place that still preserves today the ancient cave, is on the land of Tzuba, which is the nearest settlement to the famous Ein Karem (the place where St. John the Baptist was born), slightly west of Jerusalem.
In a legend about this place, it is said that Elisabeth had fled with baby John, the night when crazy king Herod ordered the killing of all infants from his land, two years and younger… (Matthew 2, 16). A cave similar to this, it was portrayed as a souvenir from the Byzantine era – found in the Holy Land and brought later to Italy. It is a disc engraved with a picture and the words: “God’s blessings for the refuge of St. Elizabeth.”
In mid IV-V centuries, the Byzantine monks blessed the cave and used it as a holy place, dedicated St. John the Baptist. On the interior walls of the cave are found some of the oldest Christian mosaics (scenes from the life of the saint, the saint body, a disembodied head, crosses and other Christian symbols).
The man is portrayed standing, with one arm raised and a pastor rod in another hand, waering some very poor clothes. The aghiografice drawings still preserved today on the rocky walls of the cave, indicate that a great Christian preacher lived there, which is believed to be St. John the Baptist. .
In 800’s, the cave was first used as a water storage tank. It was found as late as the first century, that the cave was used as a place of ritual bathing and cleaning. This is one of the largest of its kind in the entire Israel.
The Church of the Birth of St. John the Baptist from Ain Karem
Ain Karem is a town in Israel, located within walking distance of Jerusalem. This is particularly important for Christians because, according to tradition, it is the homeland of Zechariah and Elizabeth, parents of St. John the Baptist. Here St. John the Baptist was born. Ain Karem village lies at a distance of approximately 8-10 km to the west of Jerusalem and about 150 km distance from Nazareth.
Inhabited since the Bronze Age, Hebrew leader Joshua assigned Karem to the tribe of Judah, as we read in Holy Scripture (OT): “This is the heritage of the sons of Judah after their families (…) Maarit, Bet-Anote and Eltecon: six fortresses with their villages. Teco, Ephratah or Bethlehem, Peoria, Etam, Culon, Tatami, Sores, Carema (Karem), Galem, Betir and Manah: eleven fortresses with their villages.” (Joshua 15, 20 and 59)
With the emergence of Christianity, in this Jewish town of Ain Karem a strong Christian community dweled. This community was mostly dealing with carpentry and guidance of pilgrims. Today, with the exception of some small Christian community, the entire population of Ain Karem consists of Hebrew.
The city of Ain Karem still preserves seven Christian worship places. Among them are: the Franciscan Monastery, built on the place where St. John the Baptist was born, the Church of Visitation of the Virgin Maryby Elizabeth; the Monastery of Saint Zechariah; the Church of the Lady of Sahyun, together with a number of graves.
(Translated and adapted by blog’ author)