The Church of the Visitation honors the visit paid by Mary, Jesus'mother, to Elizabeth, John the Baptist 's mother. (Luke 1:39-56) This is the site where tradition tells us that Mary recited her song of praise, the Magnificat, one of the most ancient hymns to Mary.. The church is beautifully adorned with tiled representations of that canticle in many of the worlds languages.
The present structure is the older of two churches located at Ein Karem, in present day Israel. Tradition attributes its construction to Empress Helena of Constantinople, Constantine I 's mother, who identified the site as the home of Zechariah and the place where he and Elizabeth hid from Herod 's soldiers.
Later, Christian Crusaders also recognized it as the site where the meeting between Elizabeth and her cousin Mary took place, and erected a two-story church on the site of the ancient ruins. When the Crusaders left the Holy Land, the church fell into Muslim hands and gradually deteriorated.
An ancient cistern from which, according to tradition, Zechariah and Elizabeth drank, can also be found in the church; the stone next to it is said to have hid the two from Herod's soldiers. The upper hall is dedicated to Mary, and its walls are decorated with paintings in honor of her. Verses from the Magnificat are engraved on the columns of the church, and on the wall opposite it are forty-two ceramic tablets bearing verses from the Magnificat in forty-two different languages. On the church's facade is a striking mosaic commemorating the Visitation.
The Franciscans purchased the building in 1679, but only began reconstruction of the lower level of the church in 1862. Design and construction of the upper level of the structure began in 1938, and was completed by Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi in 1955. The interior of the church holds Italianate frescoes depicting the Visitation, Elizabeth hiding her son John the Baptist, and Zechariah next to the altar in the temple. Also preserved are remains of the ancient church and beautiful mosaic floors. The church is currently held in trust by the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.