Ein Karem means 'Gracious Spring.' It is in a beautiful, hilly part of Israel.
We got off our bus and looked about us.
It was a golden evening, and the shadows were beginning to lengthen.
On the walls of the St. John the Baptist church there were blue-and-white tiles like a patchwork quilt.
There is a cave here,supposed to be part of Zachariah's house, & site of the birth of John.
Then on down the hill,a narrow street.
A sturdy toddler,ready for bed, looked gravely down on us as we passed beneath his balcony.
The hill behind was barred in green and gold.
Lower down in the valley,a queue of assorted little boys, lively, noisy, jiggled outside the Orphanage wash-house.
There were warm,woollen blankets, soft & brown, airing in the evening sunshine.
I stood awhile talking to the Sister there, enjoying the view over the 'hill country of Judah.'
the air was fresh and mild.
Up this very hill, perhaps, young Mary came to visit her cousin Elizabeth, to share the news of the impending birth: and, perhaps, seek support & guidance from an older woman.
The wall in the forecourt of the Barluzzi Church of the Visitation is covered with ceramic tiles, each bearing the words of the Magnificat in a different language: even in Esperanto!
The church dates from the 5th Century: we were shown the enormously thick walls, and a haphazard collection of carved stone remnants.
There were garden flowers, roses and shrubs in the paved area before the church : inside, the walls were bright with paintings, all of them featuring an aspect of Mary.
The general effect is sharp, colourful: it reminded me of an illuminated missal in its fresh simplicity.
We made our way back down the stepped, curving drive.
The air grew cooler, shadows gathered in the green undergrowth.
There were flowers growing in the crevices of the stone walls.
A beautiful, calm evening.
Approaching the Orphanage, we paused for a last look at the small town: clustered buildings on the brow of the golden hill.
There was a table set out with a collection of hand-embroidered goods for sale - napkins and cloths and table-mats, exquisitely worked by the Sisters, no doubt to swell the funds of the Orphanage.
One set of small cloths, in natural linen, was embroidered with every kind of drawn-threadwork. Beautiful!
But far too expensive for me ( though not dear.)
I picked up a very small bookmark, in cross-stitch, fringed around the edges.
It bore the name 'Ain Karem.'
I thought it would not be too highly priced, and held it out, asking "How much is this?"
It was the Sister I had been talking to earlier.
She looked at me.
"For you? Nothing.
Keep it as a souvenir of Ein Karem."
I cannot possibly describe my feeling of warmth & pleasure at this unexpected kindness.
I shall always treasure my gift, and the memories it conjures up, of that very special place.