September 16, 2013
Is Your Holy Water Safe From Contamination?
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Holy water from Vienna and other parts of Austria has been found to be contaminated with fecal matter, according to a new study.
This water is used in church ceremonies including baptisms and consecrating the lips of congregants. The researchers are now claiming the water from these “holy” fonts in Austria and Vienna is dangerous and is urging churches to issue a warning encouraging church members not to drink the water. The study also found the holy water used in hospitals is more likely to be contaminated with dangerous bacteria and other harmful elements than the water found in churches. This report is now published in the Journal of Health and Water.
The researchers from the Institute of Hygiene and Applied Immunology at the Medical University of Vienna took samples from 21 Austrian springs, including 18 in Vienna for the study. Bacteria commonly found in fecal matter, including E. coli, was discovered in 86 percent of the samples. The samples also contained nitrates commonly found in fertilizer. These likely found their way into the samples as runoff from nearby farms.
Though fecal bacteria typically causes abdominal discomfort, diarrhea and fever, the US Environmental Protection Agency claims nitrate ingestion can kill infants younger than 6 months when left untreated. Alex Kirschner, the microbiologist who compiled the report, now says churches should post signs warning their congregations about the dangerous material found in the holy water.
These Austrian springs are often visited by tourists and pilgrims alike and their waters are often used in churches and hospitals in the area. Kirschner says he found up to 62 million cultivatable bacteria in one small sample of holy water, bacteria which likely made its way into the water due to poor hygiene practices.
“The more well-attended the church, the more bacteria were found. This may represent a problem that has hitherto been underestimated, especially in hospitals, since there a lot of people with weakened immune systems there,” said Kirschner in a statement.
The microbiologist says that while holy waters were once a welcomed source of clean water, times have changed.
“In those days, the quality of the water in towns and cities was generally so poor that people were constantly developing diarrhea or other diseases as a result. If they then came across a protected spring in the forest that was not as polluted and drank from it for several days, their symptoms would disappear,” said Kirschner. This would lead people to believe the springs were blessed and therefore a source of holy power.
Though the water may be contaminated with some unsettling bacteria, its unlikely many people choose to drink the water. Common Catholic ceremonies involve either wetting the lips of worshipers with the water or sprinkling the water on a baby’s head. Though Kirschner claims this could be enough to infect people, others argue the minimal contact with the water shouldn’t harm anyone.
According to the Huffington Post, water used in the baptism ceremony never approaches a child’s face and is immediately wiped away from the baby’s head.
Moreover, a post from CatholicExchange.com claims that water only becomes holy when a priest blesses it by adding salt. Writer Gail Finke claims that though the salt doesn’t kill the bacteria — a point also raised by Kirschner — water from these “holy” springs doesn’t contain any more bacteria than water from any other spring.