A few yards along Milk Grotto Street, on the south side, is the Franciscan Chapel where tradition has it that the Holy Family sheltered on the way to Egypt. It is said that while Mary was breast-feeding the baby Jesus, some of the milk fell on the floor. This caused the rock to crumble. Women came here to pray in the belief that the white stone helps their lactation, and packets of the powdered stone are sold to pilgrims. Text by Tony Oldham (2004). With kind permission. Map.
All in all the stories and legends around Milk Grotto differ very much. We try to give an overview on the different versions.
According to Christian tradition, the Holy Family took shelter during the Slaughter of the Innocents on their way to Egypt. Legend says it was this place where they stayed a short time hiding from Herod’s soldiers.
A tradition going back to the 7th century located at this site the burial place of the innocent victims killed by Herod. As mentioned above the white rock of the cave is said to help lactating mothers by increasing amount and quality of the milk. It is also said to enhance fertility. Both Christian and Muslim mothers come to this cave because of its powers.
The reason is, that Mary – while feeding the baby Jesus – spilled some drops of milk on the floor. As it was the milk that fed the son of God, people interpreted it to be extremely powerful.
Some legends tell that the rock crumbled because of the milk, but most tell it was black before and turned into white when it was touched by the milk. The white chalk resembles the color of milk, so this ideas sounds logic.
Some say the white rock has to be placed under the mattress, others advise to put the white powder into the drinking water of the mother. The last version seems to have some medical background as nourishing mothers need a lot of calcium.
Packets of the powdery white stone sold to pilgrims at the chapel. The cave is of irregular shape, obviously located in some kind of very white limestone or chalk. It has a natural origin as a karst cave, but was modified over thousands of years.
- Our Lady of the Milk Grotto – Magharet Sitti Mariam – Grotto of the Lady Mary, Bethlehem, West Bank.
- From Manger Square on the south side of the Church of the Nativity head southeast on narrow Milk Grotto Street.
- Open: All year daily 8-11:45, 14-17.
- Service Wed 16.
- Fee: Adults $1. Ring bell in the court yard to gain attention.
- Classification: Karst cave. Cave Church
- Milk Grotto Chapel, Milk Grotto Street, Tel: +972-2-274-3867