The Virgin Mary’s visit to Elizabeth was first set in a place other than that of the birth of Saint John at the beginning of the 14th century: “Zechariah’s house is in the mountains of Judea.. In this place there are two churches… and between these churches flows a spring that is quite full of water. At the site of the first church, it is said, Elisabeth was greeted by the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is also said that the blessed John the Baptist was hidden there during the Slaughter of the Innocents. At the site of the second church, the blessed John the Baptist was born” (Brother Giovanni Fedanzola of Perugia, 1330).
Going beyond the gospel episode, the same church also conserves the memory of the hiding of Saint John the Baptist, taken up by the apocryphal protoevangelium of John (2nd century): “Beyond a small valley full of trees is the mountain toward which Elisabeth ran with her own son, saying “Mountain! Receive a mother and son!” And the mountain opened and offered them refuge. Herod’s soldiers who were following them reached that point and finding no one, returned, confused. Even today one can see the place where this happened, marked in the rock. Above it is a small church, under which is a little grotto and in front of its entrance another little church has been added. From this grotto flows a spring that quenched the thirst of Elizabeth and John while they were in the mountain,staying there, served by an angel, until the death of Herod.” Relics of “earth from the grotto of Elizabeth and John” were conserved as early as the 7th century in Rome, in the Lateran treasury and elsewhere. A stone, exposed in the crypt, continues this tradition today.