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The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary
by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich

9. THE BURIAL CAVE OF MARAHA, ABRAHAM'S NURSE, ALSO CALLED THE CAVE OF THE SUCKLINGS.




Abraham had a nurse, Maraha, whom he greatly revered; she lived to a great age and he always took her on his journeys, riding on a camel. She lived with him for a long time in Succoth. Afterwards, towards the end of her life, she was here in the Shepherds' Valley, where he had his tents near to this cave. When she was more than a hundred years old and her death was at hand, she asked Abraham to bury her in this cave, prophesying about it and naming it the Cave of Milk or the Cave of the Sucklings. Some miracle, which I have forgotten, happened here, and a spring of water burst forth. The cave was then a high narrow passage of a white and not very hard substance. A mound of this blocked up part of the passage but did not reach to the roof. If one climbed over this mound, one came to the entrances of other caves higher up. There were also several deep passages running into the hill under the cave. Later it was enlarged. Abraham made Maraha's tomb out of the mound lying in the passage. Below was a massive block of stone on which rested a kind of heavy stone trough on short thick feet. The trough had a jagged top. One could see between the trough and the block under it. I was surprised to see nothing of it at the time of Jesus' Birth.

This cave with the nurse's tomb was symbolically prophetic of the Mother of the Savior giving suck to her child while pursued by enemies; for in Abraham's youth a symbolically prophetic persecution took place, and his nurse saved his life by hiding him in a cave. As far as I can remember, the king in Abraham's country had a dream or was told by prophecy about a child to be born who would become a danger to him. The king took measures to prevent this. Abraham's mother concealed her pregnancy and gave birth to him in secret in a cave. Maraha, the nurse, suckled him in secret. She lived as though she were a poor slave, and worked in a wilderness near the cave in which she suckled the child Abraham. Afterwards his parents took him back, and on account of his being unusually big he was thought to have been born before that prophecy. However, when he was a boy, he was again in danger as the result of some supernatural utterances, and the nurse again saved him by hiding him away. I saw her carrying him off in secret, tied to her waist under her big cloak. Many children of his size were murdered at that time.

This cave had been a place of devotion since Abraham's time, particularly for mothers and their babies. This was prophetic, for the reverence paid to Abraham's nurse was symbolic of that paid to the Blessed Virgin. In the same way Elijah had seen the Blessed Virgin in the rain-bearing cloud, and had made a place of prayer in her honor on Mount Carmel [see p. 28 ]. Maraha had contributed to the coming of the Messiah by nourishing with her milk the ancestor of the Blessed Virgin. I cannot, alas, explain it rightly, but it was like a deep spring of water running through the whole of life and always being replenished, until there burst forth from it the clear stream of Our Blessed Lady. [This was the expression used by Catherine Emmerich in her state of ecstatic sleep.]

The tree which stood beside this cave was like a great lime-tree, with big shady branches. It was a terebinth, pointed at the top and broad below. It had white seeds, which were oily and could be eaten. Abraham met Melchizedek under this tree, but I cannot remember on what occasion. Joseph enlarged the cave still more and closed the passages leading downwards from it. The tree stands on a hill; beneath it is a door, set at a slant, leading into a passage or kind of vestibule where another door, set straight, opens into the tomb-cave itself. The latter is round rather than square. The shepherds often used the passage to shelter in. This big old tree cast a wide shadow. It was regarded as sacred by the shepherds and others in the neighborhood, and also by devout travelers. It was the custom to rest and pray there. I do not remember the history of the tree, but it had some connection with Abraham: he may perhaps have planted it. Near it was a fireplace which could be covered over, and there was also a spring in front of the tree, from which the shepherds used at certain times to draw water supposed to have a special healing property. On each side of the tree there were open huts to sleep in. It was all surrounded by a fence.

[While Catherine Emmerich was recounting this, she was in great pain; and when the writer said to her, So this was a terebinth tree?' she answered in sudden absence of mind: Tenebrae, not Terebinth, under the shadow of Your Wings, that is a wing--Tenebrae--under Your Shadow will I rejoice.' The writer did not understand the significance of these words. Perhaps she was applying the words of the Psalm to the tree. She spoke with great intensity of feeling and seemed to be comforting herself with these words.]

St. Helena built a church here and Mass has been said here: I think it seemed to be in a chapel dedicated to St. Nicholas.











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