The Milk Grotto
In ancient times dreams were often seen as the voice of divine revelation. Thus it comes as no surprise that when Joseph was told by an angel to flee Bethlehem he followed the instructions given to him. According to the gospel of Matthew, at the same time Herod’s troops were indeed being sent to slaughter all the city’s male infants aged two years and under.
Tradition says that as the family left Bethlehem, they rested in a small cave not far from the Church of the Nativity. While Mary was suckling the baby Jesus, several drops of milk spilled to the floor turning the whole cave milk-white and giving the site its name, the Milk Grotto.
Filled with artwork depicting the Madonna and Child, the small but ornate chapel of the Milk Grotto is dedicated to the nursing of the baby Jesus.
*Behold, the angel of the Lord appearance to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. Matthew 2:13
From as early as the fifth century a church dedicated to the Virgin Mother has stood at the site. The first chapel was probably built here by St. Paula, an aristocratic Roman widow who came to live in the Holy Land and helped establish some of its earliest monasteries.
For centuries the soft white stones from the Grotto were exported to the churches of Europe under the name of the Virgin’s Milk. In our own days, nursing mothers of all denominations and of many religions come to the Milk Grotto to pray in the white stone cave. Believing in the cave’s miraculous properties, they often take a piece of the soft rock to grind and add to their drinks.
A short walk from the Milk Grotto, one comes upon the 19th century Franciscan church called the House of St. Joseph. In the present-day chapel one can see evidence of the much earlier church – the lower layer of the apse built out of the virgin rock, and the base of the ancient altar.
It can be understood from the gospels that the Holy Family did remain in Bethlehem for some time. After eight days the child Jesus was circumcised, as is still the Jewish custom today, after forty days Mary presented the child in the Temple in Jerusalem, Luke 2:21-22.
It is reasonable to assume that during such a long stay Joseph would have found a house in which to live. It is also relevant to point to Matthew’s gospel that speaks of the The Three Wise Men “come into the house”, to greet the newborn infant Jesus, Matthew 2:11. This line would seem to strengthen the idea of Joseph having a house in Bethlehem.
This page is part of the book The Holy Land of JesusShare this page with your friends
Follow News from Jerusalem