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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.

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Glossary: breast feeding

The process of synthesising milk from the breasts, usually a child from its mother.

Glossary: reliquary

No description.

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.