Treasuring everything in her heart, the Virgin Mary is breastfeeding her child Jesus here, on the eve of the Holy Family’s exodus to Egypt, just after the visit from the Magi. Drops of her milk were enough to turn the place into a white treasure. The whitewash makes the place stunning to visit.
The Milk Grotto commemorates the following events:
- Historical Overview: The Church is dated to 1872 and is under the custody of the Franciscans. It is built on previous churches from the fifth century Byzantine and Crusader periods. Previous churches have been destroyed and rebuilt several times - mainly during the fifth-century Byzantine period, twelfth-century Crusader period, and the fourteenth-century Mamluk period. The Church has been known by different names, such as Saint Paula Church during the earlier period and Saint Nicholas Church later.
- Stonecraft: A vow to the Virgin Mary was enough for a local architect, Issa Hazboun, to craft a magnificent façade using his Bethlehemite knowledge of crafting stones. Arches were filled with floral decorations and a depiction of the flight of the Holy Family. Friezes and columns were beautifully carved, and the Virgin Mary statue shows her breastfeeding her child in the center.
- Staircase: The only decorated staircase with mother of pearl in Bethlehem is found here. Issa Hazboun also designed it.
- The Grotto: This place is filled with creamy white stone, making it unique from any other church in Bethlehem. For more than 1000 years, pilgrims, visitors and locals have used these stones as medicine – seeing them as relics with healing power and which help women get pregnant. There are numerous reports of miracles happening, such as infertile women having children and sick people recovering.
- Ceaseless prayer: The Milk Grotto is the only Church in Palestine with 24-hour constant prayer - thanks to the Sisters of the Perpetual Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament, the site’s custodians. Every time you approach the new section of the Church, you will find a nun in adoration of the Eucharist, praying there in seclusion. In front of her is a beautifully designed altar.
- The Milk Grotto Altar: This is a donation from the Polish Community Association, “Queen of Peace”, in 2016. The Altar is the work of Polish artist Marius Drapikowski, who the Apocalypse of John inspired. The Altar represents Earthly Jerusalem surrounded by the 12 apostles and 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus is in the center of Jerusalem. Only after passing Jesus, the doors of Jerusalem are opened, and the light that represents Heavenly Jerusalem shines all around. Two olive trees are depicted inside, representing two Apocalypse witnesses. Out of both trees spring branches, suggesting the concept of a single trunk from which many different Christian professions arise.