Saturday 8 February 2014

Saint Brigid: 'spiritual and patriotic archetype of the feminine'.

To mark the Octave Day of the Feast of Saint Brigid, I conclude the series of posts with a final offering from James F. Cassidy's 1922 text, The Women of the Gael. In his work, Cassidy sees women as having made a distinct contribution to the preservation of the Irish Catholic identity. Saint Brigid embodies this 'feminine factor' of which she is the 'spiritual and patriotic archetype'. The author also reflects a contemporary belief in a 'Celtic personality', based around a sense of otherworldliness and lack of interest in materialism. This sort of thinking remains alive and well in modern 'Celtic spirituality', despite the reality that late twentieth-century 'Celtic Tiger' Ireland embraced consumerism and secularism with gusto. So much for 'that essentially Celtic attribute of immaterialism of outlook' which was supposedly an integral part of our genetic make-up!

And even if all these facts of ancient times were consigned to oblivion the vital influence of her memory in the world of the modern Gael would be quite sufficient to prove that the personality from which it emanated centuries ago must have been a commanding one. Irish manhood remembers her as the acme of glory of its womanhood and it feels stronger and more sanguine every day in the face of all difficulties bolstered up by the sustaining reflection that the companions of its joy and sorrow and ultimate triumph is the feminine factor of which Brigid is the spiritual and patriotic archetype. Multitudes of societies pledged to the support of the twin ideals of faith and nationality act under the patronage of her protection. Her memory survives in the names of a host of parishes and townlands throughout the country. Churches, ancient and modern, within and beyond the seas of Ireland preserve her name. The very topography of Ireland conspires to keep the memory of Brigid ever fresh in the soul of the Gael. Her holy fountains strew the land where her devotees come in crowds to seek her healing power for wound of soul and body. In a word all that lives of her in the Gaelic memory helps to wield with powerful force the hammer that drives home conviction of woman's domineering part in the spiritual regeneration of the Irish race. It tells too of the need of unswerving adherence to the spiritual tenets of Brigid for the preservation of sterling nationality for it shows the potency of a woman to help that essentially Celtic attribute of immaterialism of outlook which has ultimately wrested many and many a time the nation from its death grasp, and preserved intact its corporate sense of racial distinctness and individuality. It is a reminder that the nation which for six and a half centuries, according to Cambrensis, kept a mysterious fire continually burning at Kildare in honour of Brigid, has still the fire of admiration in its heart for one of its greatest benefactors.

James F. Cassidy, The Women of the Gael(Boston, 1922), 64-65.

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Friday 7 February 2014

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Saint Brigid Heals One of her Sisters

The Saint's tender care of her religious was manifested by another miracle. One of the sisters was very ill, and asked for a little milk, but none was to be had. But Brigit desired a sister to fill a vessel with water and give it to the sufferer. When she received it the water had been changed to milk, which was as warm as if it were just taken from the cow, and the draught cured her of her sickness.

M. F. Cusack, The Lives of Saint Columba and Saint Brigit (Dublin and London, 1877), 217-8.

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Thursday 6 February 2014

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Saint Brigid's Healing Shadow

In one of the ancient lives of St. Brigit, a miraculous cure is attributed to her shadow. It is said that a "layman" came to the Saint carrying his mother, who was paralysed. When he came to where St. Brigit was, he placed his mother on the grass in the Saint's shadow, and she was cured immediately.

M. F. Cusack, The Lives of Saint Columba and Saint Brigit (Dublin and London, 1877), 214.

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Wednesday 5 February 2014

Vignettes from the Lives of the Irish Saints: Saint Brigid and the Dumb Child

A good mother once brought her child to see the Saint. The girl was about twelve years of age, but she had been born dumb. St. Brigit was not aware of her infirmity, and began to speak to the child, and caress her, asking if she intended to be a nun. The little girl did not reply, and the mother told the Saint why she could not do so. But the holy wonderworker said she could not let go the child's hand until she received an answer; and on her asking the question a second time, the child replied, " I desire to do whatever you wish." The girl thus miraculously cured remained with the Saint until her death.

M. F. Cusack, The Lives of Saint Columba and Saint Brigit (Dublin and London, 1877), 214-5.

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Tuesday 4 February 2014

Saint Brigid: 'dispenser of good cheer'.

M.F. Cusack, Trias Thaumaturga (1877)

Ireland in her day was noted far beyond its shores for the hospitality of its people. The providing of good cheer for the friend and the stranger was long the custom there before the coming of Patrick and the monastic usage of maintaining a public guest-house did not accomplish a social revolution in the life of the Gael but simply gave the sanction of religion to a well-established habit. Hospitality was a part of the business of the state; it was the glory of the palace and the pride of the humblest home. Brigid as the head of a great monastery shone as the dispenser of good cheer and as an entertainer of guests. She received with the kindliness native to her race men distinguished for spirituality, statecraft and various branches of learning whilst the sunshine of her comforting smile warmed the cold hearts of the poor and the outcast. Kings sought her counsel and favour and bishops learned wisdom at her feet whilst erring ones went away consoled.

James F. Cassidy, The Women of the Gael(Boston, 1922), 62.

Content Copyright © Trias Thaumaturga 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

Monday 3 February 2014

Saint Brigid: 'as practical in citizenship as she was mystic in religion'

There is another name which was closely associated with that of Patrick but which needed no such distinguished affiliation to enable it to endure in history. That is the name of Brigid which was held by the premier member of Ireland's early saintly womanhood. Her memory is as much part and parcel of the national and ecclesiastical tradition as is that of Patrick himself. Interest and pride in her glory is confined within no provincial limitations but maintain an equal hold upon every section of the country. Her name when borne by a woman is regarded in foreign parts as distinct a badge of Irish origin as is that of the national apostle when its honours a man.

A potent reason for this universal esteem for Brigid is the fact that though wedded to Heaven she was never divorced from Ireland. She was not that type of saint whose celestial tendencies make mental absentees from the ordinary life of earth. She was as practical in citizenship as she was mystic in religion.

James F. Cassidy, The Women of the Gael(Boston, 1922), 59-60.

Content Copyright © Trias Thaumaturga 2012-2015. All rights reserved.

Sunday 2 February 2014

Saint Brigid's Birthplace

We begin a series of posts marking the octave of the feast of Saint Brigid with an article from the late 1880s presenting a Victorian traveller's view of Faughart (or Faughard as the writer renders the name), the County Louth site traditionally claimed as the birthplace of Saint Brigid.  The writer strikes a somewhat dreamy and wistful note as she muses on some of the historical events the site has witnessed. She also shows a touching concern for the folk religion the site preserves, other Catholic writers of the period can demonstrate a sense of embarrassment or even outright hostility when faced with peasant devotion. Another point of interest is that the author refers to a now forgotten monastery of Augustinian Canons at Faughart. This strikes me as somewhat ironic given that modern scholars believe that it was these 12th-century monastics who were actually responsible for promoting the claims of Faughart as Saint Brigid's birthplace. 

The illustration above is a postcard from my own collection. It was never used so there is no postmark by which to date it. The front caption reads 'Faughart  The Birthplace of Saint Brigid', the reverse merely informs us that 'This is a real photograph'. A statue or picture of Saint Brigid has been superimposed onto the foreground which creates a rather bizarre effect as she appears to hover ethereally just above the ground.


READERS of St. Brigid's life will remember what diversities of opinion exist respecting many circumstances of her birth and parentage. They will recollect, too, that about one of those circumstances most authorities agree — that Faughard was her birthplace. Some say that at the time of Brigid's birth, her father was a dweller in this place, although he may afterwards have removed to another part of the country. Others surmise that he happened to be here with his family, it may be, on a visit, or that by the mere accident of a stoppage on a journey, “Faughard of St. Brigid " gained its name. It is impossible now to settle such minor details, but we may safely conclude that somewhere in the townland of Faughard St. Brigid was born.

To visit those places connected with the traditions of the saint, is in itself a worthy pilgrimage for an Irishwoman, and when to the holy fame of Faughard are added the attractions of lovely scenery and historic associations, perhaps many will like to go, in spirit at least, with one who lately made such a pilgrimage in the body.

You must let me choose the day. It shall be a day late in Spring, with a fresh breeze blowing, for we want our view to be clear and open, and withal varying, not shrouded in soft mistiness, nor steeped in too universal sunshine. Proceeding from Dundalk on such a day, along the old highway leading from that town to Newry, we come, after two or three miles, to a narrow road turning off to our left, winding this side and that, clambering up hill and diving down again, yet in reality always ascending, till it leads us to Faughard Churchyard. Within the enclosure of this cemetery, standing among the graves, are the ruins of a very ancient church. On the opposite side of the road, some distance farther on, rises a high dun, called by the people "Faughard Moat." Tradition says that the spot covered by the ruins of the church is the site of the house where Saint Brigid was born, and tradition is supported by one of the old lives of the Saint. More modern biographers consider the dun the more likely situation.

This fort is a very high one, constructed of earth and stones, and surrounded at the base by the remains of a deep trench. The interior has not been explored of late days, but is said to contain extensive chambers. Whether it is the actual site of St. Brigid's birthplace is another insolvable question, and when we have climbed to the summit and looked at the view before us, unless we are very ardent antiquarians, a question we shall speedily forget. Above us the dome of the sky seems deeper, bluer, more gloriously free and distant than ever, the fleecy clouds more dazzlingly white against that fathomless azure. Out before us stretch the shining waters of Dundalk Bay, and, bounding our view to the north, the Cooley mountains raise their summits in emulation of distant Slieve Gullion, and gaining a victory after many efforts, sink contentedly into the sea. You may watch those fair hills the day long, and never see twice just the same tinge of colouring, or the same disposition of light and shadow. Now splendid depths of purple and blue, where the cloud shadows loiter, then delicate grey-blues, and faint yellows and greens, and pale mauves, when the clouds have passed, and the sunshine again rests on them,, brightening even the sombre masses of Tippings Wood.

These beautiful heights are separated from the lesser heights of Faughard by a valley as beautiful as themselves. The shadows are at work here too, casting a hazy veil of mystery on the fresh green of the fields, chasing the sunshine from the darker verdure of the trees, clouding the dazzling brightness of whitened cottages, then leaving for a moment the whole fair vale to the empire of the sun, and again swooping over it in vain attempts to supplant that triumphant monarch. Looking to the other side, beyond the intervening fields, and the fir-grown ridge that marks the railway line, you see Dun Dealgan, crowned now with a thick belt of trees, guarding the busy town that lies below, between it and the sea.

A typical Irish landscape it all is. With no bold majesty of form, or gorgeous depths of colour challenging our admiration, but with tender grace and delicate loveliness wooing our most passionate love, making us cry out in gratitude to God for the beauty of our land, and vow eternal allegiance to her. A typical Irish landscape in this too, that, side by side with the life and work of the present, it shows us the work, and calls before us the life of the past. Wherever the eye rests, whether on the distant trees of Castletown Mount, or the shimmering silver of the bay, one association after another is recalled, memories, sad and glorious, crowd upon the mind. We think we see again the ships of Dathi riding at anchor in the bay below, waiting the bidding of their regal commander; or a later scene, that battle where Fingall turned the tide of fortune spreads its scenes of fierce fight and terrible bravery before our gaze. If we turn from sea to land, imagination peoples the scene with strange figures of the past. Edward the Bruce, in his plain disguise, hurrying his troops with unwise impetuosity to the charge; the wild figures of his mingled army of Irish and Scotch; the jester in the gay apparel that cost him his life; the English with their steeds and their armour, and all the warlike appliances of the age, and amidst the veteran warriors other forms that sit their horses and bear their weapons with a less practised air.

A sudden rush sounding through the silence carries our thoughts back for a moment to the nineteenth century, but the white clouds of steam floating now above the mountain pass through which the railway runs, look to us, in our mediaeval mood, more like the white plumes of Mountjoy's cavaliers, who tried to force that same Moyra Pass many a time past the warriors of O'Neill. More than once before matters had gone so far, the chieftain himself rode down this only direct entrance then to the Black North, through this country lying at our feet, to meet the English viceroy outside the walls of Dundalk. Past this way, too, William's army must have gone, proceeding from Newry, where it had halted first on its way to the banks of the Boyne.

But if we wish to visit those spots which tradition connects with the name of St. Brigid, we must recall our wandering thoughts, and descend from our lofty standpoint. We shall cross the road, and visit the churchyard first. Examining the ruins, we find in themselves proof of their antiquity. It is said they are the remains of a church erected by St. Monenna, probably in honour of St. Brigid. Somewhere in the vicinity there was a monastery of Augustinian Canons, but all memory of them seems to have disappeared, and they are nowhere mentioned in connection with this church. Indeed there is no further information to be obtained from history or legend regarding it. Perhaps the monks, having their monastery near, served the church; but I think it likely that there was also a convent of St. Brigid's order in this place. There were then, we may be sure, numbers of pilgrims coming, as they do still, to seek the intercession of the wonder-working Saint, and in this secluded situation there would be much need of such charitable hospitality as St. Brigid herself had loved to dispense. Probable truth stimulating our imagination, we can fancy the nuns in their graceful robes of white ministering to the wants of pilgrims from all parts of the land. So one generation of sisters succeeded another, keeping alive the memory of their mother by daily imitation of her deeds, till at last one bitter day the black hulls of the Northmen darkened the bright bay, and the flames and smoke in the lowlands beneath, and the wild tales of fugitives seeking sanctuary that would soon be vain, warned the frightened nuns to leave the holy spot, and seek shelter elsewhere, hoping to return when the trouble was over. But, alas! that wished for time never came, and they died away from their dear home, and never since has a Brigidine watched and prayed within those gray old walls. Still St. Brigid has never been forgotten here.

Passing the ruins, and proceeding to the side opposite the gate, we come to a well, surmounted by a conical stone covering, now much dilapidated. A tree drops over it, and the green mounds swell high around it on three sides. To this well many come to seek, through St. Brigid's intercession, relief from headache, and from that most universal of ills, toothache. But it is not here they make the "Station." To reach this spot, we must leave the churchyard, and go farther along the road, still turning and twining, and plunging down and climbing up again, between its green hedges, with primroses peeping coyly at us, and timorous violets hiding under every knobble of clay. By and by this road leads us past a low wall of loose stones bounding a furze-grown field. Through this field runs " St. Brigid's Stream," and here the last two visits of the Station are made; but we will go on at once to the little plantation where the Station begins. Just a few steps, one more turn, and then we descend some stone steps into a thinly planted piece of ground, with a pretty stream gurgling through it. This is St. Brigid's Stream. We follow it some distance to where a tree has fallen across, and this is the spot where the Station begins. Now there is something more to indicate this than the fallen tree, and if you are an admirer of material loveliness only, and cannot see spiritual beauty in outer ugliness, we will part, for I could not bear to see you laugh with merry contempt at a sight which has for me a pathetic beauty. Here is the ugliness — a bush covered with pieces of rag of many kinds and colours. It is in obedience to that instinct of gratitude, which prompts a return for favours received, that these curious relics have been left by pilgrims. So poor that they could make not the smallest offering, they would at least leave some token whereby all who passed might know the goodness of their patroness, and the power of her intercession. And so they tied to a bush at hand a piece of the bandage that had covered some injured part, a sign that, through the the efficacy of the Saint's prayers, it was needed no longer. Assuredly our people would never merit the leper's reproach.

At this spot, as I have said, the Station is begun by the recital of some prayers. The pilgrims then retrace their steps through the thicket, cross the road, and descending at the other side into the field, proceed by a little track where the furze has given up all attempts at growing, and emerge at an open spot, where the stream reappears. Not flowing smoothly, however, as before, but interrupted by large blocks of stone, curiously marked, perhaps by the action of the water and peculiarities of their own nature. But the poetic instinct of the people has seen in these markings a proof, — nay, they never wanted a proof, — but a memorial of a certain wonderful event of St. Brigid's life. To finish about the Station first. At this place more prayers are recited, and mortification is joined to prayer, for those performing the Station kneel, with bared knees, on one of the largest stones, which is sometimes half covered with water. This stone is indented, just as a plastic substance would be indented by one kneeling upon it ; and they tell that St. Brigid was accustomed to kneel here and pray, as they do now, and that this is the miraculous impression of her knees. When the usual number of prayers, which they count in primitive fashion on pebbles gathered from the bed of the stream, has been said, they proceed to the third and last spot, where they complete the Station with some more prayers. If the person who performs it is himself afflicted with physical ailments, he bathes the injured part in the water. If it has been performed for another, some of the water is carried away for a similar purpose. I believe if one carried out to the full the original form of the Station, one should travel fasting in the morning, and should not eat till the Station was completed. So this custom, now often misunderstood by those who never dream of following it, was originally conceived and carried out in a true spirit of prayer and mortification, and in perfect conformity with the spirit and teaching of the Church.

Now let us examine the stones, and see if we can find sermons, perhaps something more entertaining than sermons, in them. Besides this one with the impression of a knee, there is another, marked with a curious orifice, exactly resembling an eye ; and this is how the mark came to be there, according to local tradition. It was before St. Brigid had received from the hands of St. Maccaille, the white robe and veil which signified her consecration to the Lord, though she had already bound herself by vow to her divine Spouse. Her beauty was famed throughout the provinces, and more than one prince sought her hand. But only one persisted in his suit after her refusal. A rude chief, perhaps still unconverted from paganism, but, at any rate, with none of the chivalrous reverence of a true son of Erin for woman and religion. One day, finding her alone, he pressed his suit so eagerly, that Brigid turned to flee from the hearing of words that seemed like sacrilege addressed to one already espoused to the Lord. But wild with the frenzy of an unrequited and hopeless love, he pursued her, and was gaining quickly on her steps, when the inspiration seized her to destroy the comeliness which roused such passion. She stopped in her flight, and raising her hand, plucked out one of her beautiful eyes. The bleeding, disfigured visage turned towards him — perhaps, yet more, the horror at having caused such a deed — changed the chieftain's heart, and he left her in peace. What became of him afterwards tradition does not say; but of Brigid it tells, that God restored the injured organ to all its use and beauty. Here in this field we stand in, they say, the flight ended, and this mark in the stone they point out as the miraculous print of the eye the Saint cast from her.

That is the story the people about Faughard tell, and never dream of doubting; but we find the legend substantially the same under many other forms. One of these makes no mention of that ungenerous suitor. It is one of her brothers, who will not hear of her consecrating herself in religion. While he was disputing the matter with her other more favorably disposed brothers, Brigid came up, and grieved at the difference, and fearing the result, she turned aside and began to pray. The Lord came to her assistance, and when she turned again to the brothers, they were horrified to see one of her eyes dreadfully distempered, with blood flowing from it, and trickling down her face. In deep distress, they sought to relieve her, and, as a first means of doing this, began to look for water to wash away the blood; but neither stream nor well could they find. So great was their concern and their anxiety to help her, that Brigid's sweet charity moved her to assist them. She directed them to dig at a certain spot, while she prayed: and lo! at the first stroke, a spring gushed forth, in which the holy maiden bathed her face, when, yet more wonderful, the distempered eye was perfectly cured. The obdurate brother,who had been silenced by the misfortune he had brought about, now began his former objections, but was soon punished by himself losing the sight of one eye ; and Brigid was allowed to carry out her design without further opposition.

The universality of this legend, under one form or other, furnishes a fair basis for the opinion that it has its foundation in fact. As to the identity of the place of its occurrence with this spot of Faughard, we have but the traditional belief of the people of the neighbourhood, and the fact that the stream is principally resorted to by people suffering from diseases of the eye.

Again, however, we find the legend differing in some important particulars, but indisputably connected with our stream. This version tells us that St. Brigid, accompanied by her sister, sought to escape from the advances of an importunate suitor. When the night fell he had reached the margin of this stream, and wearied by her day's journeying, she sat down, commending herself to the protection of God. The chieftain tracked her to the stream ; but God cast about her a thicker veil than the darkness of the night, and though he sought, and sought again, till day began to break, he could not find her, and giving up the vain quest, he rode away.

After all, I think this is the true version, and there is still a peculiar fitness in people asking for the restoration of sight through the intercession of her for whose protection God deprived, as it were, the eyes of one of His creatures of their natural power of seeing.

Regretfully we turn away from a spot we feel to be holy, sanctified, if not by the heroic action of one of God's saints, or His miraculous protection of her, yet by the faith which has been manifested here — the faith typified long ago by the "lamp in Kildare's holy fane," kept lighting through the darkness of persecution by the virtue of the women of Erin, the daughters of St. Brigid.

Thinking such thoughts, we walk through the last golden gleams of the setting sun into the dim greyness of twilight, turning now and again to catch a glimpse of the glowing sky behind us as we will turn our thoughts many a time in moments of dim doubt and grey trouble to this bright day spent in St. Brigid's birthplace, praying her, in memory of that pilgrimage, to aid us in our need.

M. McG.

The Irish Monthly, Vol.17 (1889), 372- 379. 

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Saturday 1 February 2014

Saint Brigid and Saint Derlugdacha

Although February 1 is Saint Brigid's Day, it is worth noting that it is a feast day she shares with the woman said to have been her immediate successor - Saint Derlugdacha. I have posted Canon O'Hanlon's account of this saint at my other site here. The hagiographers present the sharing of the same feast day by the pair as an example of the devotion Derlughdacha felt for the woman who was both her foster-mother and her mother in religion. For Derlughdacha begged to be allowed to die on the same day as Saint Brigid and this wish was granted, but only after she had served one year herself as Abbess of Kildare. Sadly, the close relationship between the two has today been taken out of the spiritual realm by some and they are held up as an example of 'gay saint' role-models for the marginalized 'LGBT community'. Indeed, a Catholic monastic artist has even painted a grotesque 'icon' of the pair which gives me the creeps. As I pointed out on my other site, Saints Brigid and Derlugdacha are not the only saints who share a feast day in this way for Saint Colum Cille shares his day on June 9 with his immediate successor, Saint Baithin, who also begged to be allow to share the earthly departure of his master but who also had to wait one year. I have yet to see anything suggesting that the relationship between the Iona monastics went beyond the spiritual, but then an understanding of hagiographical motifs cannot compete with an underground stream of secret knowledge about gay saints which 'they' are trying to keep from us.  No, of much more interest to me is the spread of the cult of Saint Derlugdacha beyond these shores. Canon O'Hanlon described a devotion to her found in Bavaria, which the infamous Scottish hagiologist, Thomas Dempster, tried to  explain by making our saint one of a family of 'Scots' who travelled to Germany and who were martyred there. This claim cannot be substantiated, although it would indeed be interesting to know by what means the cult of Saint Derlugdacha did arrive there. The other external centre for her cult is in Abernethy in Scotland, where both she and Saint Brigid feature in the founding story. This site quotes the following:
St Darlugdach
Saint’s Day 1st February
Also known as Darlaugdach, Dardulacha, Derlugdach and Darulagdach 
Darlugdach was supposedly the successor of ST BRIGID as abbess of Kildare in Ireland. According to one of the foundation legends of Abernethy, she came to Scotland in the time of Nechtan and: 
“In the third year of his reign, Darlugdach, abbess of Kildare, in Ireland, was an exile for Christ’s sake in Britain. In the second year of her sojourn, Nectonius dedicated Abernethy to God and St Brigid, in the presence of Darlugdach, who sang alleluia over such an offering.”
Obviously there is more to unpack here and I would like to undertake some further research into the Abernethy connection. For now, however, we will close with an account of Saint Derlugdacha from another Scottish source:
FEBRUARY 1 St. Darlugdach, Virgin, A.D, 524.  
THIS saint was an Irish virgin who was educated to the monastic life by the great St. Bridget, the glory of Ireland. She is said to have visited Scotland during the reign of King Nectan and to have presided over a community of religious women attached to a church which that King had built at Abernethy and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. By some writers St. Bridget herself is said to have led the monastic colony to Scotland, but this is by no means clear. It is true that great devotion was shown towards her, and many Scottish churches and wells bear her name, but this may be accounted for by the close connection with Ireland which subsisted in those early times. Her relics, too, were venerated at Abernethy. St. Darlugdach did not remain in Scotland, as she succeeded her friend and patroness St. Bridget as Abbess of Kildare, where she died.

Dom Michael Barrett, O.S.B., A Calendar of Scottish Saints, 2nd edition, (Fort Augustus, 1919), 16-17. 

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