Holy water not always a blessing

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 27 January 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:190
  1. Doug Payne
  1. Dublin

    It may be holy, but it might not be very healthy. For the second time in four years competitors in the Irish Young Scientist contest have been examining holy water—and their findings suggest that some fonts are filthy.

    Three 14 year old girls from County Kildare were the latest to examine fonts at local churches after one of them developed a rash on her forehead after blessing herself with holy water. Tiny green worms about half a centimetre long turned up in one font they tested while large quantities of dirt showed up in others.

    Although the project—one of 470 by nearly 2000 students—was originally intended to compare outdoor with indoor fonts, the young researchers found dirt in both. The eggs for the tiny green worms posed the greatest threat to health, but the girls were unable to suggest a solution. At the very least, they concluded, “there should be someone there to clean the water and to take out anything that is big enough to be seen.”

    In a 1998 entry from County Clare in the annual science fair, three girls grew bacterial cultures from holy water. They found coliforms, staphylococcus, yeasts, and moulds.

    Two years ago some churches in Dublin removed fonts from church vestibules after the discovery that drug addicts were washing or rinsing their syringes in the fonts.

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