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Monday 1 September 2014

Parishioners scorched on forehead by holy ashes on Ash Wednesday

Geraldine Gittens and Caroline Crawford

Published 06/03/2014 | 08:14

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Fr Eugene Baker was surprised to find the ashes caused a tingling sensation on his parishioners' foreheads.
Fr Eugene Baker had given out the ashes to 30 parishioners when they started to complain about a burning sensation.

A priest was forced to abandon an Ash Wednesday mass yesterday – after 30 of his parishioners had their foreheads burned by the blessed ashes.

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Fr Eugene Baker had given out the ashes to everyone in the congregation when they started to complain about a burning sensation.

He was forced to stop the mass in St Joseph’s Church in Newtownshandrum in north Cork and advise the congregation to go into the church sacristy and wash the ashes off.

Fr Baker told independent.ie that he is surprised by the anomaly and he apologised to his parishioners.

He has sent the ashes to the public health laboratory in St Finbarr’s Hospital in Cork for testing.

“It has never happened to me before. Has it happened to other people? I don’t know.”

“It happened immediately. There was a tingling sensation really - those who came to me afterwards said it was a tingling sensation.”

“They wiped it off immediately and they alerted me and I told people to go to the sacristy and wash it off.”

 “It was about 30 people – they had all received the ashes before any alarm was raised. Some minutes afterwards, someone said it.”

The ashes used on Ash Wednesday come from burning the braches of palms used in Palm Sunday mass, which falls one week before Easter and marks Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem.

Fr Baker is still at a loss as to what happened.

“We don’t know to be honest. The people did get a burn on their forehead with the ashes.”

“Normally you have no trouble. Whatever happened I don’t know. It’s with the health laboratory in Cork anyway. We will wait and see.”

“I apologised to them that it had happened.”

“We stopped [the mass] in so far as to make people aware of the danger and to tell them to wash it off.”

Meanwhile, a number of parishioners in the Church of the Sacred Heart in Westside in Galway also reported the same burning sensation.

Fr Malachy Hallinan said that in close to 50 years of preparing ashes, he never came across an incident like it before.

He sent the ashes for testing and the results have indicated that the issue caused by the dryness of the ashes.

He said he had stored the palm leaves in a dry garage before burning them in his stove. There was no moisture left in the leaves, and this somehow contributed to the burning effect, test results have confirmed.

The priest confirmed he has had a number of calls from parishioners, and in some of these cases parishioners reported broken skin.

Fr Hallinan urged anyone who is suffering the effects of the ashes to seek medical assistance.

And he advised anyone who has taken the ashes home for the elderly or their relatives, not to use the ashes.

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