A short distance from the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is the Milk Grotto. This is the place where the Holy Family are believed to have taken refuge during the Massacre of the Innocents and before their flight into Egypt. The Virgin Mary is said to have nursed Christ in this grotto and legend states that a drop of her milk fell to the ground and turned the rock white. In the fifth century, a church was built around the holy site to celebrate this event and pilgrims venerated it throughout Late Antiquity. The Franciscans constructed the present church in the late nineteenth century.
The town of Bethlehem is located to the south of Jerusalem in the West Bank. Since the second century, pilgrims have flocked to the site traditionally associated as the place of Christ’s birth, a cave to the east of the town. In the fourth century, Helena, the Emperor Constantine’s mother, supposedly rediscovered the cave and had her son build a church to commemorate it. This church featured an octagonal structure at the eastern end that was positioned directly over the cave of the Nativity. At the centre of this octagon was a wide, circular opening to allow pilgrims to glimpse at the holy site. It was badly damaged during a Samaritan revolt in 529 AD and was rebuilt by the Emperor Justinian in the mid-sixth century. Much of this church has survived and is largely what is seen today. There were later modifications during the time of the Crusades, largely with the fresco painting on the nave columns. It is thus considered the oldest church in use.
Tags: Bethlehem, C12th, C2nd, C4th, C6th, Cave, Christ, Christian, Church, Column, Constantine, Corinthian, Crusades, Fresco, Geometric Motif, Holy Site, Icon, Justinian, Mosaic, Nativity, Octagonal, Pilgrimage, St. Helena, West Bank