Bacteria Found In Holy Water

Safe at last!
Study making the rounds yesterday was “Holy springs and holy water: underestimated sources of illness?” in the Journal of Water & Healthnational chess master) and others.

They sampled holy water in Vienna churches and hospital chapels and discovered traces of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus, and where these come from you don’t want to know. However, it is clear from this evidence that at least some parishioners did not heed sister’s rule to wash after going.

The authors also traveled the city to its holy springs and found that about eighty-percent of these had various impurities, some of them at (European) regulatable levels.

Doubtless the findings of Kirschner are true—and of absolutely no surprise to anybody who reads (or helps create) the medical literature. Three or four times a year new studies issue forth showing that doorknobs have bacteria on them, or that the pencil you’re chewing on has lingering traces of some bug, or that doctor’s ties (I did this) are not only ugly but happy home to nasties of all sorts.

So many studies like this are there that it is safe to conclude that absolutely everywhere and everything is infected and that the only sterile place on the planet is in one of those bubbles John Travolta gadded about in in the 1976 beloved classic The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.

Since the stated purpose of the authors was to “raise public awareness” of the dangers lurking in holy water, I’ll do my bit to help. It’s good advice not to sip from the parish font or to get too cozy with the aspersory. Not only could it be injurious to your health, but it’s in bad taste.

The authors also recommend not drinking from holy springs because they fret over its little wigglies. But since there’s little evidence of a practical effect from this—lots of people drink from the springs without keeling over—it’s probably not worth changing your habits. Keep opening doors, too, and chewing on pencils and go to your doctor even though he wears a tie.

(There’s a nun joke in there somewhere, but I’m still jet lagged. Invent your own.)


  1. MattS

    Dispatches from the office of Captain Obvious.

  2. Briggs


    Be generous. It gave an excuse to plug The Bubble Boy.

  3. I never laugh at anyone pointing out the obvious anymore. Too many people seem to ignore it.

    Just as “a motion to adjourn is always in order”, so should be “restating the obvious”.

    Smoking kills people, but it continues to amaze me how many of them live for so long doing such a deadly activity, and how so many health crazed people manage to fall over dead.

    On the flip side, I support the “not wearing ties” thing. This falls into the same category of “Do not stand too close to a Hot Spot in a reactor compartment”. The hot spot is not likely to cause any problems, but sticking your sensitive bits next to a high rad source is stupid.

    If you work with radiation, it behooves you to avoid exposing yourself more than necessary. The limits are there to prevent unknown things. But then again, wearing fall protection 20 ft above the ground makes perfect sense. At 3ft? (There are rules in place forcing workers to wear fall protection anytime they are above the ground). At 3ft, it is questionable how many people are saved from injury vs how many people get injured because of the safety device. The safety device has to prevent you from hitting the ground. At 3ft the lanyard has to be Damn short making it necessary for taller people to walk stooped.

    Back to the tie thing. A doctor in a hospital making rounds among sick people in less than ideal health? Don’t wear the tie. A doctor at a conference discussing people who aren’t in the best of health, wear the tie.

    I will not judge any doctor too harshly for not wearing a tie.

    I will judge a doctor very harshly for wearing ties into an operating room.

  4. MattS

    brad tittle,

    “Smoking kills people, but it continues to amaze me how many of them live for so long doing such a deadly activity, and how so many health crazed people manage to fall over dead. ”

    Perhaps you should take this as a clue that Smoking isn’t quite as dangerous as the public health establishment claims.

  5. MattS


    I was referring to the paper you were commenting on not your article.

  6. Briggs


    Oh, I know. But I wanted yet one more chance to plug The Bubble Boy!

  7. DAV

    brad tittle,

    Safety regulations don’t have to make sense.

    I once worked in a Software Lab, and because it was a “lab”, I had to wear eye and toe protection. The only explanation I could come up with: a program might blow up or I might drop a bit.

    All because, in another lab — actually a manufacturing facility, some idiot managed to get conformal coating in his eyes. Well, maybe not an idiot — accidents happen, but the company response certainly was idiotic.

    At least I didn’t have wear flame retardant clothing.

  8. Garu

    Not being Roman Catholic, I don’t know the theological answer to this mostly-serious question: what is believed about holy water conferring some kind of blessing on non-human life forms?

  9. Briggs


    No theologian I, but since the holy water is a symbolic representation of your baptism—it’s suppose to bring it to mind—and since dogs and cats etc. don’t get baptised, it probably doesn’t do anything for them. And I won’t even make a vampire joke.

  10. Garu

    Briggs, thanks. Curious that in basic Christian theology, baptism is symbolic of spiritual regeneration, so holy water is a symbol of a symbol (although I realize that in some denominations/sects baptism carries more weight than mere symbolism). Sort of like algebraic notation of mathematical concepts of reality.

  11. Garu,

    I realize that in some denominations/sects baptism carries more weight than mere symbolism)

    Yes. And one of those denominations would be Roman Catholic. (My parents are Roman Catholic and sent me alternately to CCD and Catholic schools so I am familiar with some tenets. )

    The RC view of communion: Transsubstantiation actually occurs. Baptism: guilt and punishment of original sin actually washed away. (See more here: )

    Don’t ask me to explain or justify any of the above.

  12. Garu,
    After posting, it occurred to me to make a comment on the dogs and cats thing. It is not uncommon for certain non-RC endorsed superstitions to live side by side with RC teachings. I encountered one while being prepared for my first holy communion in El Salvador. I was about 5 or 6 years old at the time. It is as follows:

    The Nun training me made some comment or another about wearing a scapular (necklace) which she told me I would have to wear once I’d taken my first communion. I asked her what they were for. She told me the purpose of the scapular was to permit angels in heaven to identify believers at the time of death so they could haul me up to heaven presumably by grabbing the scapular. (A web discussion of these things: )

    There were at least two non-standard teachings in that little lesson. One was that one must wear a scapular necklace; the other is that it’s purpose if for angels in heaven to identify those who are to be pulled up into heave.

    I have no idea if she even believed the teaching, but it’s the sort of things some tell children thinking it’s somehow better than other explanations. (Also, this incident put me on the path to skepticism about anything that Nun had to say. She said a number of other things that struck my 5 or 6 year old mind as rather ridiculous. )

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