Irkutsk (Russia), Jan 25 (RIA Novosti) More than 200 people have been poisoned after drinking ‘holy water’ from wells during the religious ceremony of Epiphany here in east Siberia, a local consumer regulator said Monday.
Church officials denied the poisoning cases are due to sanctified water.
A total of 228 fell sick, of which 114 were admitted to hospital, Rospotrebnadzor said. Media reports said earlier 40 people were hospitalised with symptoms of poisoning.
The regulator said tests showed the water from the city’s Archangel Michael Church was clean and as per sanitary norms, but samples taken from two nearby wells and a lake revealed the concentration of chloride and nitrate was two times above the norm.
The regulator said 18 people who drank water from the wells have been diagnosed with rotavirus-caused gastroenteritis.
On Jan 19, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrated the baptism of Christ, or Epiphany, when water is believed to become holy and have healing properties. The water sanctified in churches is often stored by believers for long periods.
Many believe any water, even from the taps of the kitchen sink, poured or bottled by Christians on Epiphany becomes holy.
The secretary of the Irkutsk diocese, Father Maximilian, said an ice hole was made in the lake for bathing, in line with an old Russian tradition, not for drinking. He said water from the lake could have caused poisoning.
The head of the church’s Sunday school called media reports on the mass poisoning a provocation.
‘I believe holy water could not cause all that,’ Lyudmila Belyayeva was quoted by Newsland portal as saying. ‘These are lies against our church which is very popular. Somebody wants people to begin harbouring doubts.’
Officials have launched an investigation.