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Holy water and healing springs have long had a reputation for curing all sorts of illnesses. A new study suggests that era may be over.
Scientists at the Institute of Hygiene and Applied Immunology at the Medical University of Vienna in Austria tested water from twenty-one healing springs in Austria and eighteen fonts containing holy water in Vienna several times over the course of a year. They found water from both to be heavily contaminated with pathogens and toxins.
Holy water from church fonts contained up to 62 million bacteria per milliliter. Busy churches had more contamination in their holy water.
Healing springs were found to have e. coli, campylobacter, and other pathogens, as well as agricultural chemicals, such as nitrates from fertilizers and pesticides.
The contamination levels were high enough that it was recommended that people should not drink the water.
What Should People Do?
Once upon a time, waterborne diseases were common in Europe. Water sources in and around cities were contaminated with waste from animals and people. Austrians would visit certain healing springs or drink holy water which had come from a clean spring and their symptoms would disappear. With the advent of modern sanitation and water purification, city water is cleaner than water drawn from unprotected wells.
In order to make healing springs safe again, the contamination sources would need to be identified and the water source would need to be protected and possibly purified. Holy water in fonts would need to come from clean sources or be purified before being added to the font. The fonts also need to be cleaned more frequently to prevent transmission of bacteria between parishioners. Faith-based environmentalism has been gaining ground in recent years and many communities have embraced the care of local water sources.
Of course, it is a good idea for all water sources to be protected, whether historically healing or holy or not.