Holy springs and holy water: Underestimated sources of illness?

Alexander K.T. Kirschner*, Michael Atteneder, Angelika Schmidhuber, Sonja Knetsch, Andreas H. Farnleitner, Regina Sommer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

13 Citations (Scopus)


Use of holy springs and holy water is inherent in religious activities. Holy spring water is also used extensively for personal drinking water, although not assessed according to drinking water standards. Holy water in churches and chapels may cause infections via wetting of lips and sprinkling on persons. Our aim was to assess the microbiological and chemical water quality of holy springs and holy water in churches and hospital chapels. Of the holy springs investigated, only 14% met the microbiological and chemical requirements of national drinking water regulations. Considering results from sanitary inspections of the water catchments, no spring was assessed as a reliable drinking water source. All holy water samples from churches and hospital chapels showed extremely high concentrations of HPC; fecal indicators, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus occurred only in the most frequently visited churches. We conclude that it is highly necessary to include holy springs in programs for assessment and management of water quality. Public awareness has to be raised to perceive holy springs as potential sources of illness. Holy water can be another source of infection, especially in hospital chapels and frequently visited churches. Recommendations are made for proper water quality management of both water types.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-357
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Water and Health
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Campylobacter
  • Drinking water
  • Fecal indicator bacteria
  • Heterotrophic plate counts
  • Pseudomonas
  • Staphylococcus
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Water Pollution/analysis
  • Religion
  • Animals
  • Natural Springs/analysis
  • Water Supply/analysis
  • Water Microbiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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