September 17, 2013
Holy Water Or Holy Sh*t?
redOrbit recently reported that holy water, water blessed by priests and used in church ceremonies, contains eye-wateringly high levels of fecal matter. In other words, poop. No wonder Jesus wanted to turn his water into wine – he must have been hoping the alcohol would kill off a few bacteria before he had lawsuits on his hands.
The results are based on research into churches in Austria by the Institute of Hygiene and Applied Immunology at the Medical University of Vienna. As an example of just how high the levels of bacteria were in the holy water, the study found up to 62 million bacteria per milliliter of water. By comparison, the British government won’t allow any more than 100 bacteria per milliliter in tap water in the UK.
The good news is that church goers don’t tend to down glasses full of the holy water, it is just touched to lips for ceremonial reasons, mainly in Catholic churches, but this is still closer than most people would like to come to the risk of e-coli and other severe stomach problems associated with the bacteria. For infants under six months, the risk is greater and death could even be a possibility, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
I wondered how so much poop juice could end up in churches. How the water from the supposedly health-giving (or even ‘healing’) springs which churches use ends up so contaminated. I read that it happens when the spring is not impermeable, and so surface water runs into it. Of course, surface water is subject to the droppings of every animal under the sun, and of the odd drunk or desperate human, of course. Then there are the smaller animals that can get directly into the source itself. The surface water run-off also explains why nitrates from farming are found in the spring water too.
There was a time when the spring water could kind of be claimed to have healing powers, because despite having the residual animal poop in it, it didn’t have all the sewerage of everyday medieval drinking water. So whilst it wasn’t actually healing, you would get sick less by sticking to spring water. These days though, it is far less healthy than water that is treated and protected using modern techniques.
It would be easy to let this discovery turn into a currently fashionable church-bashing, and say that this is just another archaic practice of religion which does more harm than good, but I’m not going to do that. Oh okay actually I am. One might hope that the church will do something about this issue, because (as far as I know) the bible doesn’t say anything along the lines of, ‘Thou shalt not use flocculation, chlorination or electromagnetic radiation techniques to clean your water, just let God do it’, so hopefully they won’t be contradicting any edicts. But then again, if you start using all kinds of fancy modern techniques, it would beg the question of how good a priest’s blessing of water is if it can’t remove severely harmful substances.
Let’s not forget that St. Thomas Aquinas reportedly (I wasn’t there) turned one kind of fish into another kind of fish in his own mouth, thus completing one of the two miracles required for sainthood. On his deathbed, he said he would really like some herring, but there were none around, so his followers brought him pilchards without telling him. Upon eating the fish, he declared that they were the best herring he had ever tasted. A dying man’s mistake? No, a miracle apparently. We have not yet had a statement from the church saying, “Obviously that Aquinas thing was just a misunderstanding,” so it may be a while before we hear, “Obviously priests aren’t doing a good enough job of blessing water.” We’ll see.
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