The Holy Family’s Flight into Egypt was prompted by an Angel visiting Joseph in a dream and warning him that King Herod would seek out to harm the newborn Baby Jesus in order to protect his throne. They quickly fled into Egypt, but early on in their travels they found refuge from Herod’s soldiers in a miraculous grotto during the Massacre of the Innocents, today known as the Milk Grotto.
“When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt” – Matthew 2:13-14
Tradition says that in this grotto while the Holy Family was resting before continuing on their journey into Egypt, the Virgin Mary nursed a hungry Christ Child. A single drop of Mary’s milk fell upon the ground inside the grotto, and the limestone miraculously turned from it’s original yellowish-brown to a pure white.
The Milk Grotto quickly became a site of pilgrimage for early Christians, who believed that mixing the soft white chalk of the cave in their food or drink will improve fertility and milk production. Couples having trouble conceiving would travel all across Christendom to the Milk Grotto in hopes the white powder would help bring them a child. By the late 4th century, a small chapel was built around the cave to show reverence for it’s miraculous nature.
In 1872, the current Chapel of the Milk Grotto was built over the site of the original 4th century chapel, with just fragments of the floor remaining. The chapel is located in Bethlehem on the West Bank, just a short distance south of the Church of the Nativity.
Today, pilgrims visiting the Milk Grotto are able to receive a small bag of the “milk powder” from the custodial friars of the grotto. Couples looking to benefit follow a forty day devotion, which includes drinking a small amount of the powder daily and saying a daily prayer for fertility. Every year, the friars receive pictures of newborn children and letters from thousands of couples attesting to the miraculous nature of the powder and how it helped them conceive.