Milk Grotto

Story of the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem

Giacomo Pizzi11 October 2022

In the suggestive Bethlehem, a few steps from the Basilica of the Nativity, stands a place that has long had the ability to attract pilgrims and visitors who have come to the Holy Land: the Milk Grotto.

Located close to the Basilica, on the top of the hill, the sanctuary of the Grotta del Latte is the object of particular interest for families from all over the world who, in memory of the passage of the Holy Family here took place, They desire to receive the gift of a child. For this reason they address their prayers to the Our Lady of the Milk, icon symbol of this place.

Given its symbolic and spiritual importance, this cave of Bethlehem has been placed under the ownership and care of the Franciscans since the sixteenth century.

Milk Grotto - entry
Entrance to the sanctuary of the Grotta del Latte

The place where Mary and Joseph took refuge before reaching Egypt

In the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 2:13), it is recounted how, after the birth of Jesus, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph to warn him of the imminent slaughter of the innocents ordered by King Herod. His advice was therefore to take Mary and the child with him and flee to Egypt.“Get up and take the young child and his mother, and go into Egypt, and do not go from there till I give you word; for Herod will be searching for the young child to put him to death”. According to a 6th century tradition, as confirmed by Father Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land,Mary then hid here with the child from the soldiers. In his preoccupation to organise the journey, Joseph is said to have rushed Our Lady while she was breastfeeding Jesus and, as a result, a drop of milk slipped on a rock, turning it white.

The sign of this event has made the rock, which at first was pink in colour, an object of devotion by the faithful for centuries. It is the sign of living witness of a symbolic moment of the motherhood of the Virgin Mary, which in this case takes the name of Our Lady of the Milk.

Milk Grotto - image
Our Lady of the Milk
Milk Grotto - ba-relief
Bas-relief at the entrance of the sanctuary

The Milk Grotto in the pilgrimages of the faithful

Both Christian and Muslim women, with their respective families, consider the Milk Grotto of Bethlehem an important place of pilgrimage; they turn to God and to Our Lady of Milk in the hope of receiving a peaceful birth and plenty of milk when their child arrives. The same powder of the white rock of the Milk Grotto represents a precious relic and is considered effective for obtaining grace.

For this reason, there are many testimonies of the miracles that have occurred over the years as a result of visits to this holy place. There are also prayers from friends and relatives who, unable to make the journey, asked for a grace even from kilometres away.

There are so many miracles. People sometimes come when they have difficulty having children […] to pray to Our Lady, they bring this powder and in a room we keep their […] testimonies. Up to now, about six thousand testimonies have come to us by post,comments Brother Luis Enrique Segovia.

Not far away is the Franciscan Boys Home, a project supported by Pro Terra Sancta

Not far from the Milk Grotto of Bethlehem is the Casa del Fanciullo, a residential shelter inaugurated in 2007 and open to the reception of Christian children and adolescents and of which we spoke to you last week. The Franciscan spirit that animates this structure is intended to recall the core values of the family, also considering its proximity to the Milk Grotto. It is here that the Holy Family found itself in the first moments of the life of the child Jesus.

The Franciscan Boys Home is part of the rich mosaic of social works of the Custody of the Holy Land, in collaboration with the Terra Sancta College Numerous works have been carried out by Pro Terra Sancta, also on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the House of the Child, in recent months to ensure that it can continue to be a place dedicated to the growth and education of many children.