The Milk Grotto is a serene grotto only a few minutes’ walk from Manger Square in Bethlehem. This grotto, with a Franciscan chapel built above it, is considered sacred because tradition has it that the Holy Family took refuge here during the Slaughter of the Innocents, before their flight into Egypt. Map.
Tradition has it that while Mary was nursing Jesus here, a drop of milk fell to the ground, turning it white. The irregularly shaped grotto is hollowed out of the soft white rock. A church was built here by the 5th century, and mosaic fragments on the terrace of the grotto, with geometrical motifs and crosses, are thought to belong to this time.
Both Christians and Muslims believe scrapings from the stones in the grotto boost the quantity of a mother’s milk and enhance fertility. Mothers usually mix it in their drinking water; would-be mothers place the rock under their mattress. There is also an old tradition that identifies this as the burial site of the young victims of Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents. (There is a chapel dedicated to them in the caves beneath the Church of St. Catherine.)