The Milk Grotto in Bethlehem. On the Materiality of Sacred Places

On 19 January 2016, Dr. Annette Hoffmann will present the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem as part of the DFG Research Training Group’s lecture series.

The so-called ‘Milk Grotto’ is located in Bethlehem, only a few hundred metres from the Church of the Nativity. It is allegedly here that during their flight to Egypt, the Holy Family rested and hid from the soldiers of Herod. According to the legend, when Mary nursed the baby Jesus, some milk flowed from her breast to the ground, whereupon the walls of the originally red grotto were dyed white. To this day, the belief prevails that powder scraped from these rocks can cause miracles. For it to be effective, it must be eaten or drunk with water as 'milk'. Between the 14th and 16th centuries this powder, and thus the material of the grotto itself, was, as it were, revered as a milk relic of Mary. The lecture aims to highlight the following aspects:

I. The history of the place as a cult place, as can be gleaned from pilgrims’ accounts

2. The miraculous colouring of the stone;

3. The eating of stone material and

4. The identification of stone and milk.

Annette Hoffmann studied art history, middle and modern history as well as Romance Literature Studies in Augsburg and Heidelberg. She gained her PhD in Heidelberg in 2009 with the dissertation ‘The Bible of Gerona and her Master’ and since the end of 2009 has been a research associate at the Art History Institute in Florence – Max Planck Institute.


Albrecht Wiesener
T 4915