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Most holy water harbors fecal matter

New study finds the water at church is a dangerous place to dip your hand.

By Sally Wadyka Sep 17, 2013 4:44PM
I was born and raised in a Catholic family. I attended Catholic school and went to church every Sunday and on holidays. A key part of the going-to-church ritual was blessing yourself with holy water upon entering. You dip your hand in the font and then bless yourself with the holy water (for non-Christians, this motion involves touching your forehead, your chest, left shoulder, then right shoulder).
Little did I know that that simple ritual could have made me sick.
A team of researchers at the Institute of Hygiene and Applied Immunology at the Medical University of Vienna decided to find out exactly what’s in the holy water that religious people routinely dip into or even sip (many so-called holy springs have a reputation for helping to heal whatever ails you).

The researchers analyzed the water in 21 of these holy springs in Austria, as well as the water from 18 different church fonts in Vienna.

What they found was pretty disturbing. Apparently, every milliliter of holy water contains up to 62 million bacteria -- most of them not stuff you really want on your hands or in your gut. In fact, 86 percent of the water tested contained fecal matter. And if that’s not bad enough, it was also widely contaminated with E. coli, enterococci and Campylobacter (a common cause of inflammatory diarrhea). Only 14 percent of the holy springs met the microbiological and chemical requirements of drinking water regulations, and many of them tested positive for nitrates from agriculture, which are unsafe for drinking.

At the very least, the researchers urge, people should be warned about drinking from these sources. But even the seemingly innocuous practice of blessing yourself with holy water from the font as you enter the church can be hazardous to your health. Not surprisingly, the fonts in the busiest churches were the most contaminated. But those in hospital chapels also raised a red flag, where holy water could easily spread infection to people least able to fight it off.

The solution? First of all, don’t drink the water, no matter how sacred it might seem. And the researchers suggest that churches change out the water in the fonts frequently, plus add some salt to it to help curb bacteria. Or, if you go to church when you’re feeling a little rundown, you might just want to skip the ritual altogether.

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Sep 17, 2013 5:22PM
Would you expect anything else?  So many people putting their fingers in the water.  You know not everyone washes after pissing or shitting. 
Sep 17, 2013 5:28PM

Holy water at the Church entrance is just tap water that the Priest has blessed. When I was an altar boy (no. . .not once. . .sorry if that disappoints) we used to fill a gallon jug and take it to Father Ryan for blessing. There is nothing particularly hygienic about the whole business.

Sep 17, 2013 5:53PM

The article is misleading as there are several scenarios lumped together. The blessing for holy water contains the adding of salt to the water. Second, one is only to touch the forehead, chest, and right and left shoulders as the sign of the cross is made. There is no requirement to ever let the water touch your lips.


As to drinking water from "sacred springs"...common sense dictates that as not being necessary or desired.


Finally, the study was done only in Vienna.


Now let us do a study on bathroom doors, as far more people are affected by that scenario.

Sep 17, 2013 5:23PM
Big surprise.   The rituals of the church stem from the 1st century.   A lot about science has been learned since then and should be incorporated in the rituals.
Sep 17, 2013 5:31PM
I did the same, never got sick,so what's happening with the water everywhere today???
Sep 17, 2013 5:53PM

This water is not HOLY , it is just blessed , some priest said some prayers while standing near . It is not obligatory to use . NO one is drinking this water .

This is just contaminated water because it is exposed to air all of the time.

How many contaminated objects we touch every moment which is good because it is stimulating our defence system.

Sep 17, 2013 5:26PM

Ew. You know what else is disgusting? How they expect you to share the “blood of Christ” by having everyone drink out of the same wine glass. I was dragged to Catholic church every Sunday until I turned 18, but at least my family never forced me into drinking the communal wine.  It’s also a germ frenzy when people bring their sick children to church. They sneeze all over the place, have their hands on their noses and in their mouths. Disgusting.

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