Notre Dame Holy Water Poisoning?

Notre Dame Holy Water Poisoning?

Notre Dame Holy Water Poisoning? | Sacre Bleu!

Did someone poison the holy water at Notre Dame?

Were the holy water fonts in Europe’s most famous cathedral tainted with some kind of chemical?  Was the 800-year old heart of Paris and ersatz home of Quasimodo targeted for some type of mischief, vandalism or perhaps even terrorism?

Notre Dame

Notre Dame at Night

Perhaps – there isn’t a lot of detail provided in the articles I’ve read. Apparently several tourists applied the Notre Dame holy water to their faces and noticed tingling on their skin and developed headaches. One of the priests noted that the holy water had a bad odor. Police responded but didn’t complete any official report.




The church drained the holy water fonts and scrubbed them with bleach. Nobody else is too concerned with this and as far as the French are concerned, c’est la guerre.

My daughter spent a year in Paris and I spent several wonderful afternoons roaming through Notre Dame’s magnificent cathedrals, recesses and apses. I’ve dipped my fingers in the Notre Dame holy water fonts on numerous occasions. The thought that someone would contaminate that marvelous House of God is infuriating. Fait chier! 

One thing that stood out in the reports was that the people that were developing the tingling symptoms were complaining of the strange sensation ONLY on their faces. Having spent more than my fair share in churches (I was an altar boy for several years at St. Boniface RC Church in New York) I know there is no way, short of sticking your head into the holy water font, to get the liquid from the font to your face without using your fingers. You dip your fingers into the holy water and then touch the water to your forehead, chest and shoulders, approximating the sign of the cross. With regards to the victims – why weren’t their fingers tingling?  You aren’t supposed to wear gloves when you bless yourself with holy water and its the middle of August so none of the people should’ve been wearing anything on their hands.

Holy Water Font

One of the large baptismal fonts containing holy water in Notre Dame Cathedral – Paris

Another thing – despite being a church, Notre Dame has more security than many banks. Anyone that has visited there recently can attest to the long lines to get in, due to dutiful bag searches and security proceedings at the entrances to the cathedral and there are plenty of security cameras both inside and outside the church. And tourists! I was in Paris this time last year and there are tourists everywhere! July is the busiest month for tourists in Paris, but August is also very popular because the city empties out – all the Parisians go on vacation and get out of town. Notre Dame is Paris’ most famous tourist destination and welcomes over 14 million visitors every year (second most visited tourist destination in Europe, only the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul gets more visitors). I think it unlikely that someone could contaminate the Notre Dame holy water baptismal fonts (which hold, probably 50 gallons of water) with enough of ANY corrosive or caustic agent without someone actually witnessing the nefarious act.

Still – a determined terrorist or vandal can study the defensive positions and strategies of any target in order to accomplish their task. So to avoid providing any enterprising a-hole any suggestions or ideas, I’ll refrain from suggesting possible agents that might be used to contaminate a holy water font, although the agent would have to be colorless, odorless and sufficiently concentrated and in a volume small enough to avoid detection by security guards that are searching you looking for said agent and for the saboteur to be able to introduce the agent undetected. That’s a pretty short list of chemicals. Oh – and once dissolved in the holy water, the agent has to NOT affect the fingers or hands and ONLY cause tingling on the face and headaches with no perceivable injury to the victim.

I really think this was just a case of hysteria. The refusal of the police to file a report was probably appropriate.

Poison Boy

Lookin’ a little like I should be swinging from a Parisian bell tower myself after a long day in the ER

Written by Poison Boy

Gerry O'Malley (a.k.a Poison Boy) is a board certified ER doctor and toxicologist with a interest in the unusual, terrifying and occasionally hilarious world of poisonings and toxicology. This site is an exploration of poisons of historical interest as well as in current events and pop culture.

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