Altar servers with holy water © Arno Burgi
According to a study, holy water contains far more germs in city churches than in village churches. Overall, however, holy water is harmless, but it should not be drunk.
A study published Friday by Furtwangen University said urban holy water basins contain between 1.500 and 21.000 germs per milliliter were found every day, compared to only about 100 germs in the village. The researchers suspect that the difference is due to the higher number of visitors in the city churches. "The germ count shows a correlation with congregation sizes," explained study leader Markus Egert.
On average, according to the study, about 6.000 germs measured per milliliter of water. In addition to water bacteria, the scientists found 20 different species of bacteria from the human skin flora, in particular staphylococci. But the germ counts are down by as much as 1.000 times lower than the values from a holy water investigation in Viennese churches five years ago, it said.
What to do against contamination?
Researchers recommend hygiene measures to prevent contamination of holy water. Churches with high attendance should change water regularly. The scientists now want to look at how germ growth in holy water basins can be prevented. One starting point is the material of the holy water containers.
No one need worry. Even if the water in the pools is not of drinking water quality, there is no danger of contact with uninjured skin. The "ritual addition of salt to holy water" also has a preservative character, explains Professor Egert: "However, staphylococci in particular are known for their salt tolerance."