Having considered Joseph's story, let’s look at Mary’s story in Luke 1. After Mary received word that she was going to give birth to a child—to the long-awaited Messiah—she was likely confused and terrified. Whom could she talk to about what she had heard?
Mary may have recalled that Gabriel, before leaving, had said that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was expecting a child, which was itself a miracle given that Elizabeth was thought to be beyond childbearing years. It seems clear in Luke’s Gospel that Mary did not need any further explanation concerning the identity of Elizabeth.
Mary must not only have known Elizabeth but felt a genuine closeness to her. Elizabeth may have been an older cousin or even an aunt or great aunt to Mary. Whatever their relationship, it seems clear that Mary and Elizabeth had had significant interaction prior to the Annunciation, for as soon as Mary learned she was pregnant, she “went with haste” to visit Elizabeth.
It is likely that before Mary told her own parents about her pregnancy, she went to find Elizabeth in the hope that Elizabeth would both believe her and help her. Mary knew that if there was one person who would understand, it would be Elizabeth. A second reason for Mary’s visit to Elizabeth may have been the proximity of Elizabeth’s home and the home of Mary’s fiancé, Joseph.
Tradition places the home of Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah in Ein Kerem, a village on a hill just a few miles (less than an hour’s walk) from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. You can see this village in today’s video, which is posted below.
Ein Kerem is mentioned in Jeremiah 6:1 and Nehemiah 3:14 as “Beth-haccherem.” Today, the town is visited by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year who go to worship and pray at the churches that mark both Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and the place where John the Baptist was born. (Elizabeth and Zechariah were John’s parents.) There is also a spring located in this town, known as Mary’s Spring.
Ein Kerem was eighty miles from Mary’s home in Nazareth. This journey by foot would have taken perhaps nine days. Mary would not have traveled alone but would have made the journey with folks who were on their way to Jerusalem. It is likely that Mary explained to her parents that she had learned of Elizabeth’s pregnancy and had volunteered to go and help her during the pregnancy. How else would she explain to her parents that she wanted to travel so far from home to see Elizabeth?
Further, Mary stayed with Elizabeth until the end of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, which might indicate that Mary had come to help Elizabeth until the baby was born. The fact that Mary was willing to travel nine days across three mountain ranges to see Elizabeth speaks volumes about how she was feeling. She longed for someone who might believe her and who could help her make sense of what was happening.