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Baptism by bacteria? Holy water not so holy, study finds

Published September 20, 2013 11:30 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Don't drink the holy water.

That's the advice of researchers who found fecal matter and bacteria in numerous Austrian religious shrines and springs.

"Scientists at Vienna University medical school's Institute of Hygiene and Applied Immunology came to the conclusion after analyzing the water quality at 21 'holy' springs and 18 fonts at churches and chapels at various times of year," Reuters reported. "Only 14 percent of the water samples from holy sources showed no fecal contamination and none of the springs could be recommended as a source of drinking water, the study presented to a conference in Vienna this week found."

In the study, microbiologist Alexander Kirschner explained that in the Middle Ages, water quality in urban areas was "generally so poor that people constantly contracted diarrhea or other conditions."

Forest springs, by comparison, were more protected from poor human hygiene, Kirschner said, so drinking from them might make symptoms disappear.

Thus, such springs were believed to have healing powers.

One way to avoid the problem today, he said, is by "regularly replacing holy water in church fonts."

Peggy Fletcher Stack