This small and peaceful chapel is located close to the Nativity Church in Manger Square. Tradition has it that while Mary was nursing Jesus, a few drops of milk spilled to the ground turning the rocks white. The church is believed to be where Joseph, Mary and Jesus took refuge before their escape to Egypt.
“And after the wise men departed, behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying Arise, and take the child and his mother and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him.” Matthew 2:13-19.
In the heart of Bethlehem, just a few minutes walk from Manger Square, there is a beautiful chapel of Margaret Sitti Mariam, “Grotto of the Lady Mary”, commonly known as “the Milk Grotto”. It is said that the Milk Grotto was the place where the Holy Family found shelter during the Slaughter of the Innocents, before their flight into Egypt. Mary and Joseph decided to stay there until they knew that their newborn baby, Jesus, would be safe from King Herod’s soldiers.
A church was built over the grotto in the 5th century. The remnants of a beautiful mosaic found in the courtyard of the grotto are believed to be from this time period.
The grotto’s name is derived from the belief that a drop of Mary’s milk spilled onto the ground of the cave and turned it completely white. In fact, the milky white rock covering the grotto’s interior has a magical power. For ages, childless woman of many religions have made a pilgrimage to the Milk Grotto, in order to ask for the gift of an offspring. Some of the pilgrims will take the stone powder with them and give it to the people who cannot have children.
Strong beliefs and prayer really can create miracles as demonstrated by the tens of thousands of people who have taken a sample of the milk powder home with them. People are supposed to mix a pinch of the powder of Milk Grotto’s rock with water or milk and their spouse should drink the mixture. If they are Catholic they should pray the Holy Rosary together. While saying the third joyful mystery – “The Nativity of Jesus in Bethlehem” – they are to pray for a gift of an offspring.
And the angel said unto them: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger”. (Luke 2,6-12)
If the spouse is of another religion they should simply pray with their own words to the Virgin Mary.
While passing the church’s gate and turning left one can find a small room full of photographs of many little babies held by their happy parents. The room was created to display evidence of the power of the “White Stone of Miracles” and to expose the letters of gratitude from new parents and their families. The letters found within are in many different languages and each includes a picture of their gift from the Virgin Mary, the photo of a long-awaited child. The miracle of the milk grotto has created ecstatic parents from many religious backgrounds and from all around the world.
Between the letters there is one from a Polish lady called Janina. She came with her husband on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and during her visit to the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem she discovered the room of the “Miracle Babies”. Knowing that her son and his wife could not have a baby for a long time, she thought that the prayer to the Virgin and the holy power of the grotto’s stone could give them a chance. So she decided to take a piece of the milky rock with her to Poland and give it to her daughter in law. Her grateful letter is one of the best testimonies for Mary’s great miracle. Janina writes that finally her first granddaughter, Lidia, was born.
The present building around the Grotto was built by the Franciscans in 1872 and before that in the 5th century with mosaics fragments of motifs and crosses and traces of original walls that remain to this day. The grotto is hollowed out of the soft white rock. There is also a tradition that identifies this as the burial site of the young victims of Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents.
This chapel has long been a devotional site for women. Both Christians and Muslims believe scrapings from the stones in the grotto boost the quantity of a mother’s milk and enhance fertility. Nursing mothers mix it in their drinking water while expecting mothers place the rock under their mattress.
This revered site is known in Arabic as Maghari al Saiydeh. Many European churches have taken away pieces of the rock to put in their own churches.
Beata M. Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourism bureau and blogs for Travelujah. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.
Location: Milk Grotto Street
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