Two relics from Bethlehem, Israel, 1900-1929
These two objects, one still with its paper wrapping, were collected by Christian worshippers on a pilgrimage to Bethlehem in the early twentieth century. They are small tablets of terra sigillata – a clay traditionally believed to have medicinal qualities. The clay was ground up and used in medical preparations, a practice begun in the Middle Ages that continues today. The wrapping is marked with a Latin inscription which translates as “Believed to be from the sacred crypt of the suckling blessed virgin Mary”. This white clay is from the Milk Grotto at Bethlehem, a holy site for Christians because they believe it was where Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ. The clay was also used to help women who had difficulty breastfeeding.
Related Themes and Topics
Glossary: breast feeding
The process of synthesising milk from the breasts, usually a child from its mother.
Glossary: terra sigillata
A form of clay from the Greek islands of Lemnos or Samos. Until the 1700s, terra sigillata was used as a medicine and seen as a general cure for bodily impurities.