Sep 17, 2013 10:39 PM GMT
New study finds the water at church is a dangerous place to dip your hand.
By Sally Wadyka
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.