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The Tortures and Torments

 of the Christian Martyrs

from

De SS. Martyrum Cruciatibus

(a Modern Edition)

Chapter XII



Of Martyrs driven into Exile, and condemned to Hard Labor or the Mines
 

Returning once again to the discussion and evidence of the remaining methods of punishment used in antiquity for the torment of the Christian Martyrs, (enumerated in Chapter 9), we find that the last methods to be examined pertain either  to banishment, or condemning to hard labor or to the mines.

The first of these —  banishment —  is found in the works of many reliable authors, including Tertullian, Cyprian, Jerome (in speaking of the Holy Apostle St. John), as well as by a great number of Histories of the Blessed Martyrs, in particular of Pope Clement, Flavia Domitilla, and Saints Bibiana, Demetria, and Severa, virgins and martyrs.

Concerning Christians condemned to hard labor, such as digging, carrying sand and stones, and the like, we can appeal to the Histories of many Saints, such as Pope Clement, and St. Severa, mentioned just above, as well as to those of Saints Papias, and Maurus, Roman soldiers.

Of Martyrs sent to the mines, we have ample evidence in Tertullian and Cyprian, in Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, and in numerous Acts of the Saints, as, for instance, those of St. Silvanus, Bishop, and thirty-nine comrades in affliction, and of Saints Paphnutius and Nemesianus. The last are commemorated in the Martyrology on September 10 in these words:

"In Africa, anniversary of the Sainted Bishops, Nemesianus, Felix, Lucius, likewise of another Felix, Victor, Dativus, and others, who, under Valerian and Gallienus when the rage of persecution was at its height, were, upon their first steadfast profession of Christ, heavily beaten with clubs, then bound in fetters and sent off to dig in the mines, and so fulfilled the struggle of a glorious martyrdom."

Likewise of St. Paphnutius, on September 2nd:

"In Egypt, anniversary of St. Paphnutius, Bishop and one of those Confessors who, under the Emperor Maximian, were condemned to the mines after their right eyes had been put out and left legs hamstrung. Later, under Constantine the Great, St. Paphnutius strove earnestly against the Arians on behalf of the Catholic Faith; and at last died in peace, glorified with many crowns."

So again of St. Spiridion, on December 14th:

"In the island of Cyprus, anniversary of St. Spiridion, Bishop, one of the Confessors whom Maximian, after putting out their right eyes and maiming their left legs, condemned to the mines. He was renowned for his gift of prophecy and the glory of the signs granted him, and in the Council of Nicaea he overcame the philosopher Ethnicus, who disparaged the Christian Religion, and brought him to the True Faith."

Athanasius writes:

"But as many as the Arian persecutors could lay hands on, they banished to that part of Egypt called the Great Oasis. And the bodies of those who died they at first refused to surrender to their friends, but kept them secretly unburied to satisfy their capricious spite, thinking their cruelty might so remain undiscovered.  In doing so, however, they made a great error; for the friends and relations of the murdered men, rejoicing in their confession of the truth, yet mourning the concealing of their dead bodies, and loudly proclaiming the cruelty of what was done, caused the tragedy of their enemies' atrocities to be more and more known abroad. Both in Egypt and in Africa they drove many Bishops and priests into exile ... whom they hurried away with such violence that some died on the way, others perished in banishment, with more than thirty Bishops of the Church in all being exiled."

And again in another place,

"Under the Emperor Constantius, who was ever ready to assist the Arians, they succeeded in effecting the banishment from Alexandria to Armenia of two priests and three deacons. Arius moreover and Asterius, the Bishops respectively of Petra in Palestine and Petra in Arabia, were exiled to upper Africa. Lucius too, Bishop of Adrianople, who had boldly opposed them and rebuked their wickedness, was once more bound hand and head as they had done to him before, and bore him away into exile, where he died."

A short extract now from Theodoretus' History describing the driving into exile of Catholics under the Emperor Valens, must, for our present purposes, suffice, after which we will leave this part of our subject:

"Sentence was delivered on the holy men by Magnus, Count of the Provincial Treasury, to this effect, that they were to be expelled from Alexandria and sent away to dwell in exile at Heliopolis, a city in Phoenicia, in which no inhabitant would endure to hear the name of Christ, for they were one and all idol worshippers. Accordingly he ordered them to immediately embark on a ship, he himself standing on the shore and brandishing a drawn sword at them, thinking to strike terror into the souls of men who had again and again wounded hostile demons with the two-edged sword of the Spirit. Then he gave a final command to set sail without any provisions having been loaded in the ship or anything whatever given them to sustain them in the cruelty of exile."

A similar barbarity fills the heart of Elizabeth, Queen of England, in our own day, who is now torturing her Catholic subjects with every sort of bitter torment and innumerable afflictions and penalties, sometimes (see Sanders, Anglican Schism) driving them into banishment as a token and proof of her pretended clemency. But of her own impiety and that of her father, Henry VIII, we have spoken elsewhere at greater length.


Of Martyrs Condemned to Hard Labor, Building or Cleaning Sewers, or Working on the Roads and Streets

This sort of punishment is mentioned by Suetonius, who states in his Life of Nero:

"He began the artificial lake between Misenum and Avernus and the canal from Avernus to Ostia, and with a view to finishing these works, ordered all prisoners that were anywhere confined in jail to be conveyed to Italy, and convicted persons to be condemned in every case to hard labor."

And again in Caligula:

"Many respectable people were first disfigured by branding marks, and then he condemned them to the mines, to work on the roads, and to wild beasts."

Pliny (Letters), speaking of the Emperor Trajan, tells us that:

"Any older offenders that are discovered and who were sentenced ten years ago, will be assigned to various tasks not far removed from hard labor; for men of this sort are commonly taken away for cleaning the sewers and working on the highroads and public streets."

Further particulars concerning these punishments may be found in the History, of Pope Marcellinus as follows:

"When Maximianus returned from the African province to Rome — and eager to please Diocletian Augustus, who was determined to build Therma named after himself (hence, the Diocletian's Baths) — he first set about by persecuting Christians soldiers of that faith, forcing all, whether Romans or foreigners, to the degradation of forced labor, and in different places condemned them to quarrying stone or digging sand. At this time lived a certain Christian, Thrason by name, a man of importance, and wealth and faithful in his life; seeing his fellow-Christians worn out with weariness and hard labor, he would of his abundance supply food and nourishment to the holy martyrs ..."

And further on:

"Maximian commanded that Cyriacus, Largus, Smaragdus, and Sisinnius, should dig sand, and carry it on their own shoulders to the spot where the Thermae were being built. Among the rest was an old man, Saturninus by name, who was now sadly broken by age, and they began to help him carry his load. But when the guards saw this, how Sisinnius and Cyriacus were bearing both their own and others' burdens ..."

The same, or very similar, accounts are given in the records of the passion of St. Cyriacus and his companions, and of St. Severa, virgin and martyr.

St. Athanasius also makes mention of the same form of punishment:

"The Arians drove the old Bishops into exile, disposing of some in the stone-quarries [Footnote: Stone quarries (lapidicinae), places whence stone is extracted, called in Greek latumiae. Hence prisons are called latumia, either because criminals were sent there to quarry stone, or because the Tyrants of Syracuse had near that city great stone quarries excavated in the rock like a jail, from which the stones had been hewn for building the city originally, and made use of these as prisons. It will be remembered how the unhappy survivors of the disastrous Athenian expedition, under Lamachus (B.C. 415), against Syracuse, perished in these latumiae.], and hounding others to death."

Victor mentions this even more frequently in his Vandal Persecution, where he writes in one place:

"When the tyrant failed to break down the wall of their constancy, he devised a plan of allowing no men of our Religion that held office in his Court to touch the usual allowances and pay, further endeavoring to wear them out in manual labor. He ordered well-born and delicately nurtured men to the plain of Utica to cut the field crops under the blaze of the burning sun, where all then went rejoicing in the Lord."

It is unquestionable, then, that it was customary with the ancients to send offenders and Christians to hard labor in the way of inflicting the greatest possible injury and insult upon them, and particularly on those who were ennobled by military service. Properly speaking, it was only persons of the viler sort that were usually assigned to public works; and if soldiers were so treated, this was directly contrary to the laws, which forbade a soldier to be condemned to the mines or to be tortured, and under no circumstances to be forced to labor at building operations or perform the daily tasks of slaves.

One building that was constructed by the sweat and toil of Christian soldiers and Christian martyrs is that enormous pile which to this day we call (as we had mentioned above) The Baths of Diocletian. The circumstances of its building cannot but make us assign it to the special favor of Almighty God, that in later years, when Pope Pius IV was seated on the Papal throne, the most important part of this building, which remained intact, was changed to serve as a Church, and solemnly and duly consecrated to Mary the Mother of God and the Holy Angels (Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli at Rome).


Of Martyrs Condemned to the Mines

Many were the sufferings and indignities we are told of as endured by persons condemned to the mines. To begin with they were disfigured with marks and brandings, and deprived of all their goods and of the Roman citizenship, if they possessed it; then they were beaten with cudgels, and loaded with fetters; compelled to lie on the bare earth, if they wanted to rest their weary limbs; tormented with filthy, stinking surroundings and by periods of fasting. Moreover the crown of the head was shaven; and lastly in the case of the holy martyrs condemned to this punishment under the Emperors Maximian, Diocletian and Galerius, the right eye was plucked out and the left leg hamstrung.

That those sent to the mines were degraded by marking and branding is also seen in a passage already quoted from Suetonius' Life of Caligula:

"Many persons of respectable condition, after first disfiguring them by branding marks, he condemned to the mines."

Constantine, on the other hand, writing to Eumelius in a rescript dated from March 21, states:

"If any man has been condemned to penal imprisonment or to the mines in punishment for the crimes he has been convicted of, no writing is to be made on his face, albeit on hands or ankles the sentence of his condemnation may be set in one, and one only, branding. The human face, which was formed in the likeness of the divine beauty, should never be spoiled and degraded."

Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, then clearly shows us by his words that up to his own day the practice had continued of branding the faces of those condemned to the mines with black marks that could never be obliterated and deep-cut letters.

As to confiscation of property and deprivation of citizenship, many pertinent statutes can be found in Roman laws enacted before Constantine the Great.

It is necessary for us to understand that those condemned to the mines were reduced to the condition of slaves — which is again proven by reference to Roman law, from which it followed necessarily that each article of their goods became public property upon their condemnation.

"A man condemned to the mine becomes a slave in virtue of his punishment, and accordingly those upon whom this sentence has been pronounced have their goods confiscated to the benefit of the treasury. For this reason, any property possessed by the person whom you declare to have been subsequently released by our clemency, belongs rather to the public revenue than to himself."

Further, that the Blessed Martyrs condemned to the mines were beaten with cudgels, bound with fetters, had the one half of their heads shaven, were tortured with hunger, filth and foul stenches, and the like, is clear from one of St. Cyprian's Letters, addressed to Nemesianus and the other martyrs, his companions, then imprisoned in the mines:

"But that you should have been so badly beaten with cudgels and tormented — and by these pains making a first beginning and initiation of your confession of faith in Christ —  is indeed a thing to stir one's indignation. Yet has no Christian ever shuddered at the cudgels, seeing that his hope is all in another instrument of wood, the Cross. Christ's servant has known the sacrament of his salvation; by the Cross of wood has he been redeemed to eternal life; by the Cross advanced to the crown of blessedness. What wonder is it, I ask you, if, vessels of gold and silver, you have been sent to the mine, which is the true home of gold and silver, except only that now is the nature of the mines changed, and the places which were heretofore used to supply gold and silver, begin to receive the same?

They have set fetters moreover on your feet and bound your holy limbs, those temples of God, with degrading chains — as if the spirit could be bound fast with the body, or your gold be soiled with the contact of iron. To such as are dedicated to God's service and testify His faith by their religious life, these things are weapons, not bonds; it is not to shame they fetter the legs of Christian men, but to the glory and brightness of perfection. Oh! feet happily fettered, that shall not be released by the smith, but by God Himself! Oh! feet happily fettered, which are started on the blessed road to Paradise! Oh! feet tied and bound now for a brief space, that they may be free forever hereafter! Oh! feet that stumble for a while shackled with chains and cross-bars, but will soon run in the glorious path that leads to Christ!

What matter if envious and ill-conditioned cruelty hold you in its chains and bonds, when you will so soon be leaving this earth and these pains for the kingdoms of the sky? True, in the mines the body is not pampered with beds and bedding, but it is comforted with the refreshment and consolation of Christ. Your toil-wearied carcasses lie on the bare ground, but it is surely no punishment to lie with Christ. Your limbs are always squalid with scurf and foulness for lack of baths; but you are washed internally in the Spirit. Your bread is scanty and unclean; but man does not live by bread alone, but by the word of God. You shiver, and have naught to cover you; but he who puts on Christ is clad and warmed abundantly. Your heads are half shorn, and the hair rough and ragged; but when Christ is your head, how beautiful must that head be, which is called after the name of the Lord. All this deformity that is hateful and abominable in the eyes of the Heathen, what splendor shall be accounted worthy of it?"

Similar are the words of the following letter sent back to him by the sufferers to whom St. Cyprian wrote:

"Our fellow-prisoners give many thanks to you, under God, most beloved Cyprian, for you have refreshed their laboring breast with your letter, healed their limbs bruised by the cudgels, loosed their feet bound in the stocks, made complete again the hair of their half-shaven heads, enlightened the gloom of the dungeon, leveled the mountainous places of the mine, have even set fragrant flowers before their noses and shut out the choking smell of smoke. Moreover your assistance, and that of our most beloved Quirinus, has been received, and the provisions sent to be distributed by Herennianus the Sub-deacon and Lucanus, Maximus and Amantius, the acolytes, applied to make up whatever was lacking to our bodily sustenance."

Lastly, we know from the Roman Martyrology and from Eusebius that martyrs condemned to the mines often had their right eyes torn out and the sinews of their left legs cut. Eusebius writes:

"When Diocletian and Maximian were wearied with the excess of the sufferings inflicted on us and tired of their slaughter of human beings; when they were now sated and over-sated with bloodshed, and had come to feel such clemency and mercy as was to be expected of them, to avoid the appearance of exercising any special cruelty upon us for the future — for they professed that it was not seemly to contaminate States with domestic bloodshed, nor to stain their Empire with the blot of inhumanity (an empire which all held, of course, to be so clement and full of pity), but rather that all mankind should enjoy the blessings of a genuine and merciful royal rule, and that no one, henceforth, should be punished with death, and that this kind of penalty be remitted and relaxed towards us — these benignant Princes directed merely that our eyes be torn out, and one leg broken! For, in their view, these were mild tortures and very gentle punishments for us to endure. Accordingly it is impossible to tell the number of those who, in deference to their horrid gentleness, have had their right eyes dug out with daggers (and the sockets they were torn from seared with a hot iron), their left legs mutilated at the articulation of the joints, and themselves afterward condemned to the copper mines in various provinces, not so much to take advantage of their labor as to torture and torment them."

Further, St. Clement implies that Christians condemned to the mines used to be guarded by soldiers; and the law dealing with the subject informs us that they were regularly coerced with such lashes as are given to slaves.

Eutropius tells us that Tarquinius Superbus was the first Roman to devise this punishment of the mines; but he certainly was not
the first to discoverer it, for Diodorus Siculus and Suidas both state in so many words that Semiramis, the Queen of Assyria, worked the mines, and did so by the help of prisoners of war. Women as well as men were sometimes condemned to labor in them.

Of Insults and Indignities Practiced by both Heathens and by Heretics upon the Dead Bodies of the Blessed Martyrs

We have already seen from St. Athanasius, in a passage quoted above regarding exiled Catholics, how the enemies of the
Christian Faith not only exercised their cruelty upon the Blessed Martyrs while they were yet still alive, but also upon their dead corpses, such that their inhumanity and savagery extended even toward the bodies of martyrs when lacking life and feeling. To begin with, Eusebius, in the Eccleslastlcal History, provides many examples of these horrors, of which we will quote only one or two. In one place he writes:

"Caesar, having answered by letter, ordered that all who confessed the Faith of Christ be put to torture. The Governor, determined to make a spectacle of the Christians to the mob, commanded the Blessed Martyrs to be brought forward into the judgment-hall. There he once more examined them, and pronounced sentence that any who were Roman citizens would be beheaded, while the remainder were to be delivered over to the beasts."

Then after these Saints had victoriously won the crown of martyrdom, the Historian adds:

"But even so their rage and cruelty against the Saints were not satisfied, for these savage, barbarous people were stirred up by a savage and furious beast: the Devil. Scarcely, if at all, did their rage slacken. Rather, they began to exercise their insults, cruelty, and malevolence anew on the dead bodies of their victims. Even though they had been overcome by the martyrs' constancy, being devoid of all human feeling, their madness was not a whit diminished nor repressed; rather, the bitter spite both of governor and people grew greater still.

The dead bodies of those whom the pestiferous stench of the prison had choked, or who had died under torture, were exposed to be mangled by dogs, and were, moreover, carefully watched day and night, to prevent any of the faithful from committing them to a tomb.

Finally, the limbs of the martyrs slain in the amphitheatre — any that is, which had not yet been devoured by beasts or consumed by fire —  were either rent into small pieces or burned up like coal. What is more, the heads of those who had been decapitated were collected and laid with the trunks, and for several days guarded by pickets, to make sure of their being left unburied.

Meantime many people came to mock these poor remains, and to cry, 'Where is their God now? What has their religion profited them, which they preferred to their own lives?' ... Neither by taking advantage of concealment by night, nor by offering substantial bribes, could the bodies be recovered by their friends; but were always carefully watched, the Heathen appearing to deem it a great thing gained, for them to be left lying unburied.

Last of all, after the martyrs' remains had lain six whole nights and days under the open sky and subject to every ignominy, they were first burned at the hands of vile and abandoned wretches and reduced to ashes, then thrown broadcast into the Rhone, which flows nearby, to the end that no trace of them should be left anywhere upon the earth."

And again:

"The remainder of the Christian band were bound
with chains, and driven by the officers on board boats, which were then launched out into the deep sea and stormy waves. Some of these servants of the Great King who had, after their death, been decently and properly committed to the earth in burial, were formally ordered by the Emperors to be dug up again and cast into the sea, lest if they were deposited in tombs and commemorated by monuments, people should deem them gods and honor them with religious veneration."

And in another place still:

"But this monster of cruelty (the Tribune Maxys), proceeding to yet further extremities of inhumanity, and every day increasing his almost bestial rage against men of piety, altogether transcended the laws of nature, going so far as to insolently deny burial to the lifeless bodies of the Saints; and to this end ordered their corpses, left out under the open sky for beasts to mangle, to be carefully watched night and day. Accordingly a great number of men might for many days be seen fulfilling this harsh and barbarous duty, while others again kept a careful look-out from a watch tower or high place to see that no corpse was taken away. So wild beasts, dogs, and birds of prey tore their limbs and scattered their remains hither and thither; until the whole city was strewn everywhere with the entrails and bones of men.

In the end, even those who had hitherto been hostile to us declared they had never known anything more atrocious and dreadful, commiserating not so much the misfortune of the individuals so terribly treated as the insult to their own self-respect and the claims of nature, the common parent of all mankind. For the spectacle of human flesh, not merely being devoured in one spot, but lying torn and mangled everywhere (surpassing the power of pen to describe or tragedy to represent), was offered to the eyes of all at every gate of the city, while some even declared they had seen separate limbs or even whole corpses, to say nothing of fragments of human entrails, actually inside the gates.

But now hear a great marvel! During several days when these things were being done, a miracle was to be seen. Though the weather was perfectly fine, the sun shining brightly, the air clear, and the whole sky calm and beautiful, suddenly the pillars throughout the city supporting the colonnades both of public and private buildings began to exude copious drops, as it were of tears. The Forum too and the streets, though no vestige of rain fell, grew wet in some mysterious way as though drenched with water; so that the word passed everywhere from mouth to mouth that mother earth could not longer tolerate the wickedness and impiety of the atrocities then committed, but was in some inexplicable fashion shedding floods of tears, the very stones and all inanimate nature weeping these odious crimes and justly rebuking the iron hard-heartedness of men and their nature that was so cruel and so lacking in proper pity."

All this is on the authority of Eusebius, who is further confirmed in what he states by Theodoretus and by Sozomen in their Ecclesiastical Histories, the former speaking of the Emperor Valens, the latter of Julian the Apostate. Theodoretus writes:

"After Palladius, a man greatly given to superstition, finished torturing the tender bodies of Catholic boys, some of these, when their martyrdom was consummated, were left lying, defrauded of due burial. So their parents, brethren, kinsmen, and I may say the whole city, claimed this one boon, this last solace, might be granted them. But Oh! for the pitiless harshness of their judge, or rather their executioner! — they who fought so gallantly for their religion, they meet the same fate as murderers, and their corpses are left unburied; they who wrestled so stoutly for the Faith, are exposed to be devoured by birds and beasts. But even more! Any who took pity on the fathers of these martyrs slain for conscience' sake, are themselves beheaded as though guilty of an odious crime."

Lastly, Sozomen offers us the following passage:

"But when as they had torn their bodies in pieces (to wit, Saints Eusebius, Nestabus and Zeno) and so broken their heads that the brains ran out on the ground, they conveyed them to a place outside the city where the carcasses of dead animals were thrown. Then lighting a pile, they burned their bodies, and the bones left over which the fire had not entirely consumed, they mixed up with camels' or asses' bones that were lying thereabout — in such a way as to make it extremely difficult to find the blessed martyrs' relics amid so many bones. Yet did they not remain for long so hidden away."

These, then, were the tortures and torments, thus far described by me, by which the Christian martyrs of either sex were afflicted, and through which, in times of persecution, they won their way to the glorious crown of martyrdom.

These, O, Gallant soldiers of God ... these, you unconquered champions of Christ — these tortures and torments, I say, are the bright insignia of your victory, the manifest signs of your faith and fortitude, these the marks of your triumph! Death, which you sought so eagerly, you glorious warriors of God's army, has earned you an everlasting life of gladness. You, you alone are truly happy! Who will not proclaim your blessedness complete, for holding wealth and this world's pleasures of no account for Christ's sake, you have desired above all things else to pour out the last breath of life amid the most dreadful torments! In time of persecution, when the anguish of your sufferings grew more and more, fixing the eyes of your soul on the celestial guerdon, you spoke thus to God in your hearts without movement of the lips: "Here on earth, most gracious Lord God, let the torments of the body be multiplied a hundredfold, that there in Paradise gladness and peace may be increased. Oh, breasts burning with the flame of love divine! Oh, Hearts kindled with the ardor of the Holy Spirit!"

It is not to be marveled at, if these most gallant athletes of God, abiding in the midst of storms, were deterred by no perils, but made only the more eager and determined by suffering, craved that every hour ever new tortures, the most bitter and most agonizing, might be wrought on them, as though they could never have enough of pain.

But, wretches that we are! Oh! Unhappy sinners! What excuse, what excuse, I ask, shall we find before the Lord in the terrible day of His judgment, we who with no horrors of persecution to endure, no torments to confront, have held God's grace and our own salvation of so small account as to choose to pass all our life in a mere torpor of indolent sleep? What excuse shall we plead, when the very pillars of the heavens shall tremble — when all the nations of the earth shall cry aloud — when the most noble army of Christ's blessed martyrs, standing up before the throne of glory in great joy and confidence, shall display the scars of their wounds shining out upon their bodies and surpassing the sun's splendor with their brightness? What shall we then have to show? — What merits to bring forward? What plea shall we have to make? — God's grace and word inviolable? Renunciation of all earthly joys, alms, fasting, and mortification of the flesh? Pity, patience, and gentle compunction? Peace of heart, holy, calm, and prayerful watchfulness? Blessed indeed they, and thrice happy, which shall possess such shields to guard them! They shall be made companions of the Holy Martyrs, and sharers and partakers in their glory!

So we beg and beseech you, and entreat you earnestly with endless prayer, Oh! Martyrs most blessed, who for God's sake and by His holy grace, endured torments willingly and with a cheerfully, and for that cause are now made one with Him in sweet accord and loving blessedness, we entreat you to plead with God for us miserable sinners, weighed down under the most grievous offences and degraded by the most sordid sins of negligence — that loving Him with all our heart and all our strength in this vale of tears, we may hereafter be found worthy on that dreadful day when all secrets shall be made manifest, to obtain mercy and salvation everlasting.

And above all, I beseech you, most glorious soldiers of Almighty God, forget not me, the author of this book, who am the most abject of sinners. It is by your intercession, and that only, I hope and aspire, with all the unction and eager desire of my heart, to win everlasting felicity, and with you to be fulfilled of the abundant waters of God's bliss, and intoxicated with the unspeakable riches of the mansions of His house.

 

END

 

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