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Holy Water On Tap: Spigot Shut On Italian 'Acqua Benedetta' Fraud

Italian police have busted a nationwide operation that passed off ordinary water from local faucets as having special powers from such Catholic holy shrines as Lourdes and Fatima.

Flasks for collecting holy water from the cave of Massabielle in Lourdes (J-N Lafargue)
Flasks for collecting holy water from the cave of Massabielle in Lourdes (J-N Lafargue)
Guillaume Delacroix

ROME - Meet Enza Maria Ciccolo. The 71-year-old woman claims to be a biology researcher; on her website, she says she graduated from the University of Pisa and studied auriculotherapy (a form of acupuncture in which needles are placed in various points of the ear) in the French city of Lyon.

Two weeks ago, the Italian Carabinieri police unit specialized in Social Security fraud knocked on Ciccolo's door and discovered no less than 4,000 flasks containing tap water. Odd as it may have looked at first sight, it hardly looked like a crime scene -- except that the vials were ready to be passed off as holy water –"acqua benedetta"-- from pilgrimage sites like Lourdes (France), Montichiari (Italy), Fatima (Portugal) and Medjugorje (Bosnia Herzegovina). Going price per vial: 200 euros.

The water was stored all over Italy, from Milan to Bari. Ciccolo called the water "White Light" in reference to the apparitions of the Virgin Mary, but also as an allusion to the liquid's supposed capacity of synthesizing all the colors of the rainbow.

She assured that the sacred drink "could be reproduced over and over again." Nine drops of Lourdes water diluted in one liter of tap water were enough to make the water "effective" and thus enable the customer to "harmonize living matter" and "restore the link between man and his environment," the "Doctor" explained, citing imaginary studies by the Center for Research in Medical Bioclimatology of the University of Milan.

It is hard to believe that clients were gullible enough to buy the 200 euros flasks. Yet some 500 people -- from all kinds of social backgrounds-- have filed a complaint. Countless others were left scammed in silence. Among them were patients so desperate they sometimes traveled thousands of kilometers to be received by Dr. Ciccolo and her accomplices.

In total, 39 people were arrested, charged by the prosecutor in the eastern city of Ancona with fraud, personal injury,wrongful practice of medicine, conspiracy and illegal trade of products boasting therapeutic qualities.

Read the original article in French

Photo – Jean-Noël Lafargue

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