Tuesday 19 November 2019

Holy smoke: dry leaves cause sacred ash-burns

Holy ashes. Photo: Reuters/Adrees Latif
Holy ashes. Photo: Reuters/Adrees Latif

Geraldine Gittens and Caroline Crawford

A PRIEST has solved the mystery of the ashes that burned the foreheads of parishoners in a number of churches.

Devout parishioners who received ash on their foreheads to mark the start of the Lenten period were left in shock after the mark started to burn.

The anomaly occurred in parishes in Cork and Galway, with dozens left with burns and blisters.

Following tests it has emerged that the leaves used to prepare the ashes were too dry, and as a result of this the ash had turned caustic when mixed with water.

Fr Eugene Baker of St Joseph's Church in Newtownshandrum in north Cork, and Fr Malachy Hallinan of the Church of the Sacred Heart in Westside in Galway city, were left in disbelief after a number of parishioners complained of a burning sensation on Ash Wednesday.

Neither priest had ever encountered the anomaly before. Both sent samples of the ash for testing at labs in Cork and Galway.

Fr Baker had given out the ashes to everyone in the congregation when up to 30 started to complain about a burning sensation.

He was forced to stop Mass and advised the congregation to go into the church sacristy and wash the ashes off.

"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."

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

He had a sample of the ashes tested.

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

Irish Independent

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