June 24, 2021

The Cave Where Saint Elizabeth Hid With Saint John the Baptist and the Tomb of Saint Elizabeth

When the Lord Jesus had been born and Herod began to slaughter the children of Bethlehem, he sent men to find and kill the son of Zechariah – for Herod had heard all that had happened to Zechariah, and how John has been born. Upon seeing the soldiers coming, Elizabeth took John into her arms – he was a year and a half old at that time – fled from the house with him, and ran to a rocky and desolate place. When she saw the soldiers following her, she cried out to the mountain: “O Mountain of God, receive a mother with her child!” and the rock opened and hid the mother and child. Then Herod, enraged that the child John had not been slain, ordered Zechariah be slain before the altar. The blood of Zacharias was spilled on the marble and dried solid as stone, and remained as a witness as Herod’s evil deed. In the place where Elizabeth hid with John a cave opened, water flowed out of it, and a fruit-bearing palm grew, all by the power of God. Forty days after the death of Zechariah, the blessed Elizabeth died. The child John remained in the wilderness, fed by an angel and protected by God’s providence, until the day he appeared at the Jordan.

Tradition identifies the deserted place where John grew up as the Monastery of Saint John in the Desert.  The site is located in the heart of the Judean hills, about 3 km from Ein Karem, Saint John’s birthplace, which is itself just 7-8 km west of Jerusalem. Below the Monastery are two caves: the first, full of water, was used for ritual bathing and baptisms. The other is remembered as the place where Elizabeth found refuge for her child when they fled from Herod’s massacre of the innocents – at the time when Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt with Jesus.  In the back of the cave, there is a small altar and a beautiful fresco representing young John in hiding with his mother. From the Monastery, a short hike up the hill leads to a convent that claims to be the burial place of John’s mother Elizabeth. The current Monastery, which the Franciscans purchased from the Latin Patriarchate in 1911, is built above Byzantine ruins and the remains of a Crusader church and convent. In the 1990s, a community of Melkite Catholics cared for the site, and they left a number of beautiful frescoes on the inner walls of the Monastery.

Tomb of St. Elizabeth