You might be stunned to find out what could possibly be in your holy water. Sure, there's the natural composition -- you know, the hydrogen and oxygen -- but one recent study into this revered liquid came to some startling finds.
While it is believed by some that holy water can lead to good health and healing, researchers at the Institute of Hygiene and Applied Immunology at the Medical University of Vienna found that it can actually be quite harmful.
In fact, 86 percent of the water that was examined by scientists contained many of the same bacteria found in fecal matter.
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In a paper entitled, "Holy Springs and Holy Water: Underestimated Sources of Illness?" which was published in the Journal of Water and Health, researchers described some shocking revelations. While it's important to note that the study was limited to springs and water sources in Austria, the document sparks a closer look at the potential dangers associated with holy water in other countries as well.
Consider, as ABC News notes, the notion that this water is often used for baptisms, to wet believers' lips and for other religious ceremonies. With researchers finding enterococci, E. coli and Campylobacter, these actions are certainly troubling (nitrates from agriculture were also discovered in the water -- another potentially dangerous find).
In collecting information for the study, water was examined at 21 springs in Austria and 18 fonts (vessels that hold holy water at the entrance of churches and at hospitals) and none of it was determined to be safe to drink. Researcher Dr. Alexander Kirschner, who worked on the study, stressed the importance of understanding the associated issues and of communicating the dangers to the public.
"We need to warn people against drinking from these sources," said the microbiologist. "This may represent a problem that has hitherto been underestimated, especially in hospitals, since there a lot of people with weakened immune systems there."
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One key element of the research that makes sense is that the busier a church is, the more bacteria will be found in the holy water.
Considering what's in the liquid, Kirschner wants religious leaders to post signs warning people about the potential dangers, change the water regularly and add salt so that bacteria will have a harder time surviving, adds the Daily Mail.
Holy springs were seen as a viable way to treat illnesses and to bring about healing in the Middle Ages, the microbiologist noted. But he argues that the situation has changed and should now be viewed entirely differently.
"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," he told the Daily Mail. "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."
It will be intriguing to see if his advice is taken and whether the results of the study spark additional investigations around the globe.
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(H/T: ABC News)
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