You probably didn’t know that the miniature-mace-shaped implement used by a priest in the Roman Catholic church to sprinkle holy water is called an “aspergill” or “aspergillum”. Despite our respective Catholic upbringings and useless fact collecting, neither did I or my dad.

But my dad (Jesuit schooling, degree in classics) could quote me the relevant introductory part of the mass

Asperges me hyssopo, et mundabor: lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.
“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow1.”

[Psalm 51]
and I (training in biological sciences) knew that Aspergillus is the name given to a genus of moulds that grow on decaying organic materials. Why are they so called? Because an 18th century Catholic priest and biologist, Pietro Antonio Micheli, saw a likeness under the microscope and, er, christened them so.

Yes, this a boring post, but I hope, once Google has indexed this page, that others will find it easier to find the answer I was scrabbling around for earlier today.

a pug recoils from a blessing
a pug recoils from a blessing
[click image to enlarge it]

I’d love to credit the photo, but I can’t remember where I downloaded it from.

  1. I once had to stand around for half-an-hour while the other members of a Gospel choir I was in (mainly black American graduate students) argued over whether or not it was racist for us to sing the phrase “white as snow”. []