The Milk Grotto
The Infant Home of Jesus
This site is always part of our live Octagon Tour.
Location - Bethlehem
Map Coordinates - 31.703326, 35.209050
Merged Gospels story - 12
The Milk Grotto
The actual name of this chapel is the Grotto of the Lady Mary in the town of Bethlehem, commonly known as The Milk Grotto. It is in the custody of the Franciscan Catholic Church, and they believe that Jesus resided here for some time after His birth.
Saint Jerome lived only a few blocks away in the Church of the Nativity, and he is remembered as the man who wrote the Vulgate, the Latin version of the Bible. In 385 AD, his faithful servant, Saint Paula, built the first church on this site.
The Biblical Story.
Sometime after Jesus was born, Magi, or wise men, came from the east, with their journey spanning a period of at least six months. They had seen a star in the sky, which they interpreted to signify the birth of a new king – specifically, a king of the Jews. That quest brought them to Jerusalem, but when they arrived it seemed that no one in that city had seen this mysterious star.
Then the star appeared to them a second time, but now it was in the southern sky, leading them in the direction of Bethlehem. The Magi walked in the dark from Jerusalem to Bethlehem for about an hour. Then the star stopped and came to rest over this house (Matthew 2:11). It was here that the Magi gave Jesus their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Gold was the traditional gift given to kings - very suitable for Jesus. And by the way, this gold was the means by which God provided for the holy family, who would soon be fleeing to Egypt. The Magi also gave him Frankincense, which was something desired by priests, who would burn it as they offered up the prayers of God’s people - once again, another suitable gift for our High Priest, Jesus. And lastly, they gave Jesus myrrh, which was an ointment that was used to anoint a dead body. You might think this to be a strange gift for an infant, until you realize that Jesus was the only person in history who was born to die.
On this same night the Magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, who was planning to kill Jesus, but to go back to their home country by a different route (Matthew 2:12). The Magi never knew of the horrors that befell the town of Bethlehem within only a few hours after their departure.
Later that same night Joseph was also warned in a dream to flee Bethlehem, and go to Egypt (Matthew 2:13). This he did, narrowly escaping Herod’s Temple guards, who arrived in Bethlehem with orders to kill every boy under the age of two. There is little doubt that many of their parents, in trying to protect their children, suffered the same fate.
The Flight to Egypt statue in the Milk Grotto.
At the base of the stairs in this shrine there is a statue of the Holy Family fleeing Bethlehem. It seems providential that this grotto was on the far eastern side of the city, for you see, Herod’s guards would have come from the west, and their mayhem would have been heard as they went from house to house, advancing eastward, seeking their prey. Being on the far east side of the city would have given Joseph and his family a clear head start as they escaped quietly under the cover of night.
The Source of This Story.
How did this story come down to us? These events were probably told to Jesus’ disciples by His mother, Mary. For about eleven years after Jesus walked on this earth, Mary lived only 6.2 miles from this site, and so it’s very likely that she not only told His disciples where these things occurred, but perhaps she even brought them to this very spot. For the next few hundred years, Christians in Bethlehem considered this to be a holy place.
A view of the back of the cave in the Milk Grotto.
The Perpetual Adoration Chapel.
Today the Milk Grotto is just below a convent whose nuns are known as the Perpetual Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament. In a chapel right above the cave these nuns pray in a vigil of adoration, kneeling in two and three-hour shifts, 24 hours a day.
A nun praying in the Chapel of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Why is this place called The Milk Grotto?
There is a legend that recalls a time when Mary was nursing Jesus, and that a drop of her milk spilled onto the floor, turning all of the stones in this cave white.
To this day, many Christian women believe that scrapings from these stones boost the quality of a mother’s milk, and that they enhance fertility. Just like the ailing woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, these scrapings became a touchpoint for the faith of nursing mothers. With nuns praying constantly over this grotto, the miracles that occur in the lives of pilgrims to this site should not surprise anyone - which brings us to…
As these white stones cover the walls of this cave, so the walls in the office of this church are covered with letters and baby pictures from believers around the world who have experienced miracles of all kinds related to their visit to this grotto. Many of these letters tell of babies who were born to infertile couples. For this reason, the Milk Grotto is considered to be the faith center of Bethlehem.