Journey in the Byzantine Calabria and the Greek-Orthodous faith

“The fortunate geographical position sees Calabria at the center of the Mediterranean, which has always been a crossroads of peoples, goods and culture that stop over 800 km of coastline for commercial or colonial purposes. For this network of exchanges and intense relationships, the indigenous Enotria will become the Magna Graecia of the colonial era, following the colonization of populations of large groups coming from Greece aimed at finding and finding new living spaces from which to start and get wellbeing and fortune. A network of balances that will be turned upside down after nearly eight centuries of Greek great civilization by the Romans who will impose their power in the Mediterranean, from the third century BC. until the end of the imperial era. At that precise moment Christianity was already an official religion and Rome separated itself from Byzantium in what will be recognized as the great schism between East and West, between the Roman Catholic Apostolic religion and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchal religion. Calabria will detach itself from the central power and will therefore be annexed to the Patriarchate of Byzantium and to its direct control as the new Orthodox Eparchy and the Byzantine theme (region, dominion), the Thema of Calabria. It was one of the richest regions and at the same time one of the most culturally and artistically cared for by the Greeks of the East. “

 

Organized by the Archaeologist and Licensed Guide Prof. Tommaso Scerbo,
Specialist in Archeology of Magna Graecia.

 

The article is born as a deepening of our Tour “Tthe Byzantine Calabria: Rossano and the upper Ionian “, by Dr. Scerbo (read more here).

 

This itinerary stems from the need to discover some cultural excellences of the Calabrian heritage strongly connotative from an anthropological point of view. What characterizes the spirit of this region is the combination of mountain culture and maritime culture. The fortunate geographical position sees Calabria at the center of the Mediterranean, which has always been a crossroads of peoples, goods and culture that stop over 800 km of coastline for commercial or colonial purposes. For this network of exchanges and intense relationships, the indigenous Enotria will become the Magna Graecia of the colonial era, following the colonization of populations of large groups coming from Greece aimed at finding and finding new living spaces from which to start and get wellbeing and fortune. A network of balances that will be turned upside down after nearly eight centuries of Greek great civilization by the Romans who will impose their power in the Mediterranean, from the third century BC. until the end of the imperial era. At that precise moment Christianity was already an official religion and Rome separated itself from Byzantium in what will be recognized as the great schism between East and West, between the Roman Catholic Apostolic religion and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchal religion. Calabria will detach itself from the central power and will therefore be annexed to the Patriarchate of Byzantium and to its direct control as the new Orthodox Eparchy and the Byzantine theme (region, dominion), the Thema of Calabria. It was one of the richest regions and at the same time one of the most culturally and artistically cared for by the Greeks of the East. The presence of the Eparchy of Lungro and many Orthodox communities is still present, as well as the only example of Ekklesia of the Greek rite and of the Catholic faith which advocates a reunification of the Eastern schism with that of the West, prophesied by the Greek monk S. Nilo da Rossano, in the land of Calabria, make this region, beyond the countless Byzantine and Catholic historical testimonies, from a religious and cultural point of view, a region unique in the world. The spread of Byzantine and then Catholic Christianity has permeated all areas of Calabria, giving us the opportunity to enjoy an architectural heritage made up of churches, cathedrals, monasteries, castles, castra and millennial stone villages placed to defend and exploit the inland silane or aspromontano and hilly of the Serre and always in direct contact with the coast and the sea, in this case the Ionian, defined the Greek sea. The sunrise in the east was a focal point of the Byzantine religious mystic on which architectonically orient all the plants of the Byzantine churches, the dawn on the Jonio sea, the Jonian dawn accompanied and still accompanies the unfolding of ancient rites, made of long chanting and adoration of oriental saints that even today since the V-VI century d. C. have their followers of faithful. The Orthodox Church does not recognize the authority of the Bishop of Rome as the successor of Peter and proclaims to represent the secular continuity of the undivided paleochristian church of the first millennium.

The Greek Orthodox pilgrimage is a tour to discover the Byzantine culture of Calabria with the visit of the villages and the monasteries with annexed churches can start geographically and historically from the great and last reality of the eparchy of Lungro degli Italo-Albanesi. Catholic Byzantine church in Italy of Eastern Rite, immediately subject to the Holy See and belonging to the Calabria ecclesiastical region. Connected to this reality there is also the small village of Civita a few km from Lungro with its greek-catholic church from the magnificent Greek Iconostasis rich in symbols and Byzantine saints decorations and the statue in the square of the Albanian hero Giorgio Castriota Skanderbeg, tells the troubled past of these communities saved by the Castriota, brought to southern Italy and converted after 1400 thanks to its heroic action. Civita is in fact a village of remarkable beauty nestled in the heart of the Pollino mountain range and set on a hill overlooking the gorges of the stream Raganello, natural canyons, visible in a breathtaking view from the village; in addition to being an excellent point for tasting or lunch, based on local products from the mountain range of Pollino and the Ionian Sea, so from fish to shellfish or seafood to lunch with homemade pasta with meat sauce wild boar or porcini mushrooms or pork, preserves in oil, pork sausages are typical as processing dried or fresh fruit for homemade desserts. 

Going down the mountains of the pollen to the coast we cross the SS 106 SS Jonica which will be our road axis until the next destinations for the duration of the tour that will take place essentially between the Ionian coast and the foothills-mountain hinterland. These realities are born thanks to the flight of the populations that inhabited the coast since Roman times and that at the end of the empire they found themselves at the mercy of the raids of the Turkish pirates or of the Saracens or of the Muslims in general and then the evangelical Goths and Longobards evangelized for opportunism, which came to the Greek-Gothic war first and to the wars of resistance of a Byzantine south from the barbarian Lombard domination later, favoring the depopulation of the coasts until the eighth re-founding in the inland powerful fortified castra fortified as Roscianum Rossano, called The Byzantine. Known as the Ravenna of southern Italy to be one of the capitals of the theme of Calabria under the direct control of the Byzantium, Rossano is the symbol of that escape from the coast as well as from the same Orient entire monastic groups and hermit monks fled to go to take refuge in the farthest and richest of the empire’s provinces, Calabria. They fled the iconoclastic struggle of the Isauric emperor who forbade images of worship and persecuted anyone who produced icons or miniated treasures and depicted as the Codex Purpureus which represents a real treasure or a gospel among the 5 oldest in the world and certainly the more illustrated and richly decorated. Dated to the fifth century A.D. it was supposed to be a gift to an emperor as it is composed in Greek on parchment sheets impregnated with red purple and embellished by the presence of figures decorated in bright colors and letters in gold and pure silver.

The city offers a visit to the cathedral in which not only the Codex is preserved but also a miraculous Madonna Maria Santissima in Greek Achiropita and Odighitria, that is not painted by human hand, depicted on a rock that was originally kept in the previous Byzantine church east, now inside the cathedral. Going back to the course you can not go to visit the architectural masterpiece of the tenth century. A.D. of the church of S. Marco. This church together with the Cattolica di Stilo, which is similar in every detail if it were not for the restoration and white plaster of which it is covered, stands on a rocky outcrop of the Grecìa district typical of each Byzantine city, mainly Greek and Orthodox religion, rich in churches and monasteries, the heart of Byzantine cultural and economic life, in them the community asceticism of Italian-Greek monks that often had the monastery in the neighborhood and then lived in the caves dug in the tuff of the rocky ridges. One of these was S. Nilo da Rossano who personally requested the Byzantine temple; the church had a square plan with a Greek cross surmounted by 5 domes and richly decorated with frescoes, with three semicircular apses on the east-oriented wall for the Diakonikon the Bema and the Prothesis, in the center of the hall 4 pylons support the vaulted ceiling for the presence of the 5 domes and surround the space for a sober and typically medieval stone altar. Next to the church of S. Marco it is possible to stop for lunch or at a typical trattoria of Rossano “La Bizantina” where you can taste at km 0 all the local specialties also in this case of sea and mountain depending on the season . Last but not least for splendor and grandeur the religious monument of the Rossirian Patirion. The abbey of Santa Maria del Patire was founded around 1095 by the monk and priest Bartolomeo di Simeri, with the help of some wealthy Normans, and was dedicated to “Santa Maria Nuova Odigitria”, although it is known by the name of ” Santa Maria del Patìr “, or simply” Patire “(from the Greek Patèr = father), attribution given as a sign of devotion to the founding father. In 1105 the pontiff Pasquale II granted him the right of immunity from the episcopal jurisdiction. In the Norman era it became one of the richest and most famous monasteries in Southern Italy. The abbey also possessed a rich library and a scriptorium where Amanuensian monks worked for the transcription of ancient codes. After having rediscovered the hairpin bends of the Byzantine fortress of Rossano, the journey continues southwards, always following the SS106 and you reach Krotone, which offers a significant digression on the Magna Graecia and the Greek colonization of Calabria by the Greeks of the West. You can therefore visit the museum and have free time for shopping, even religious, in the center after a visit to the chapel of the Madonna di Capocolonna, Madonna miracolosa, icon of Byzantine art, venerated for centuries in the city of Crotone ‘VIII AD is the port of Byzantine operations and vanishing point of General Belisarius towards Constantinople. After this break visiting the historic center of Crotone for a short walk of a few hours you can reach the medieval village of S. Severina in 20 minutes by road from the 106SS. elected together with many others in Calabria among the most beautiful villages in Italy, the Nave di Pietra, is literally set between the hills and pre-hills of the Sila Greca in the Marquisate of Crotone. The landscape is striped under the height of the village from the main torrent of Crotonese, the river Neto, for scope and history. The stone ship because the castle on the city wall takes on the tip of a bow that drags the rest of the country, like a large stone ship. The visit of the Castle with the annexed museum inside leads to the discovery of what was to be the structure and the rest of the country a few centuries before the Norman conquest in the eleventh century between IX and X when in the Byzantine kastron we would have had a large open terrace a sort of parade ground with a church decorated with frescoes and annexed necropolises that have been excavated and preserved inside the castle under the pavement of the Middle Ages, numerous finds salvaged from the Byzantine tombs and exhibited in the museum. Outside we could admire the baptistery, discovered as unique and ancient Byzantine structure by Paolo Orsi, the same archaeologist who rediscovers Magna Graecia. The baptistery of the tenth century A.D. a true tholos presents itself as a Greek circular structure, which in Byzantine canons follows an architectural symbolism connected to a mysticism in this structural case, which in an essential structure is as small as the others previously encountered, although this is majestic, wants to express the squaring of the circle and therefore the perfection of God, since from the circle of columns surmounted by the central dome depart as from a second circular nave that revolves around the colonnade 4 small arms with vaulted ceilings and window in the frescoed principle, which form a perfect Greek cross. The immersion and marble bath and the splendid columns of each type of colored marble come from works of spoliation of looted Roman villas and reused in Christian buildings. Another noteworthy and purely Byzantine building is the small Church of Santa Filomena, also called the Pozzoleo because it was built between the eleventh and twelfth centuries AD, by the Normans over the previous plant of the Church of Santa Maria del Pozzo, so called because near a cistern, now used as a crypt. The dimensions of the current church and the magnificent dome adorned with oriental motifs reveal its typically Byzantine nature. The building has a narrow rectangular façade with a barrel vault and an arched portal, surmounted by a two-light window and a small bell gable. On one side of the sacred building there are two beautiful arched entrance portals, decorated with lozenges and rosettes. The church has a large central apse, flanked by two smaller ones. The apse is dominated by a slender dome adorned with 16 small columns, according to a typical motif of the Armenian churches. Inside, it was possible to admire a stoup, made of paris marble and embellished with decorative leaf elements that is now preserved in the Diocesan Museum of Santa Severina. Taking the main road 106 on the coast, the tour continues going south to the center of Calabria, in the Lametico-Scilletico Isthmus, near the Gulf of Squillace, one of the most varied and richest areas of our region by typology of landscapes, flora and fauna and because of its proximity, only 35 km, between the two Jonio and Tirreno seas, which baptises this land as the Piana dei Due Mari. At the center of this gulf full of sandy beaches and cliffs that are not found anywhere else on the Ionian coast, we have the archaeological site of the Greco-Roman colony of Scolacium.

A Roman city of the ancient Brutium that was inhabited until the eighth century, when we mentioned the escape of coastal populations to the mountain hinterland for fear and economic necessity and the arrival of new monks and people from the east , persecuted because of the iconoclastic struggles due to the Byzantium emperors. Calabria as a Greek land and last region of the empire, so subjected to Byzantine domination but somehow out of violent persecution, welcomed a large number of monks belonging to different Orthodox orders or hermits who sought peace and refuge away from the centers of imperial power. Religious structures were established in every Byzantine Kastron and miniated codices, illustrated gospels, icons of extraordinary beauty and workmanship, unique treasures jealously guarded until the arrival of the Normans and the forced recapitulation of the Byzantine South Italy were reported and saved. But the Normans as we have seen in other cases, children of barbarous, warlike cultures, devoid of style or any artistic taste, began to collect the Byzantine heritage embracing the culture, sometimes even simply overlapping the Catholic cult with Greek and Orthodox structures , modifying the Greek cross plan in Latin or stratifying one building on another or changing the cult directly without destroying what was good built by a thousand-year-old civilization like the Byzantine one and without attacking a cult that, however Greek-Orthodox it was at the bottom also always Christian. Think of the emblematic case of the Basilica Deuterobizantina-Normanna of the eleventh century. of S. Maria della Roccella present in the territory of the ancient colony of Scolacium. In it the Latin cross plan, the thick and powerful walls of a military barracks, the single-nave corpus with typically Norman pillars can not betray the skin of bricks and bricks juxtaposed in several styles used by the Byzantines or the three enormous apses on the back side of the transept, which are also shown on the altar, a SYNCHRESIS in short, a pure synthesis between the Byzantine style and the Romanesque style that will later become Norman style in the conquest of southern Italy. The enormous Basilica of S. Maria della Roccella was to be born as a huge monastic complex of Romanesque-Byzantine style desired by the Norman conquerors to repopulate a very important area from an economic and strategic point of view but also subjected to Saracen-Gothic raids Lombard. Visited the museum of Scolacium you resume the journey, after a short stop on Catanzaro Lido for an ice cream or an aperitif on the seafront, in the direction of Stilo. Ancient Byzantine kastron, then a medieval village where the Palio della Ribusa in period costume still takes place, Stilo has never lost its ancient Greek Orthodox nature. It is home to many countries of Greek culture and Orthodox religion and millenary monasteries such as that of St. John Therestis, which still houses a small community of Greek Orthodox monks belonging to the patriarchate of Romania. Clinging to Mount Consolino and placed on a hill near the Stilaro river in the homonymous valley, Stilo already dominated in the Byzantine period from the 8th-9th century onwards. it will be precisely in the ninth that the monks of the monasteries to defend themselves and to have a place of mystical prayer and that by clinging to a rocky spur approached the creator, fitting perfectly into the natural context of Monte Consolino, was born the Katholikon or La Cattolica. The Catholic Church was the mother church among the 5 parishes of the country governed by the Byzantine Protopapa and by a local vicar. The architecture is the typical one deduced from the Byzantine mistagogy of a Greek cross church inscribed in a square inside 4 Roman columns divide the space into 9 equal parts central square and the angular ones are covered by domes which in turn, being purely symbolic , describe a circle in a square generating the quadrature of the circle, symbol of God’s perfection. Inside and outside, by the Bema, a small window opens directly to Byzantium. The interior is a period of the period from the period of the Norman period to the Renaissance period, in a theory of saints and angels. The cycle of frescoes culminates in the small barrel vault of the Bema in which, paying close attention, one notices to the powerful Christos Pantocrator seated on a blessing throne and surrounded by angels. They were not so much beautiful, they were not so much, they simply changed the structure to Catholicism and built an altar on the wall N. Leaving the site of the Cattolica di Stilo Just a few minutes walk from the beautiful mountains of the Stilo’s Woods between the Serre and the Aspromonte can be reached through a short walk-trekking between the lush vegetation and the rich waterways of the Stilaro, to the Marmarico waterfalls. At the waterfall you can stop for a packed lunch. After lunch, in the province of Reggio Calabria, we will visit the Orthodox monastery of San Giovanni Theristis, located near the Bivongi. monastic community of the Romanian Orthodox Diocese of Italy. The Christianity of the Byzantine rite rather than the Latin rite in southern Italy became a physical and spiritual salvation for those who in those centuries chose Calabria as one of the main escape routes, especially Orthodox monks from the seventh century onwards the struggle of the iconoclasts. In Aspromonte there arose many monasteries, especially in the Amendolea Valley and in the Stilaro Valley, and there were several Italian-Greek Basilian saints. Saint John Theristis rose in the eleventh century at Byzantine monastery named after him. Basilian monasteries in the South of Italy and kept in splendor and wealth until the fifteenth century. A large library and rich treasures. The basilica is a clear architectural testimony of transition from the Byzantine to the Latin. In fact, it presents some Byzantine and Norman architectural elements among them.

The basilica is presented as a Byzantine church, but with Norman dimensions. The Byzantine style is instead evident in the exterior of the basilica, in the perimeter walls built with layers of tanning stone and with alternating terracotta, surrounded by brick pilasters placed flat and of a knife that at the top are closed in arches, in the pilasters outside of the apse which, intersecting each other, form ogival arches and, together with all round, airy motifs of Arab architecture. Traces of frescoes denote how the walls of the basilica have been frescoed since its construction and the most notable of these depicts St. John Therestis. The external apses and the main one, the sloping walls of the transept and the arms of the transept, the dome, with the drum surrounded by 16 thin columns with a half round brickwork, which overhangs, all offer the vision of a structure extended towards the ‘high. The interior today is again full of icons, paintings, frescoes and admirable sacred furnishings such as the iconostasis or the splendid gold chandelier in the central aisle, with a large base of twelve sides, on each of which an apostle is depicted. The community of monks still exists today with 5 papas who manage the camps and structures of the monastery from hermits and welcomes visitors celebrating the Greek Orthodox rite in Calabria and still spreading the grandiose and millennial Byzantine culture, belonging to the patriarchate of Romania and selling the products of the earth or their manufactures to the tourist. Going down the mountain to the valley you reach modern Caulonia and cutting for a few kilometers in the country hinterland you get to a small town where the countryside is wonderful in the period when these tours take place, a true explosion of scents and colors and lush green mixed to the yellow of the wheat and to the red of the poppies and the prickly pears. At Caulonia we can point out in the tour, for the most interested the presence of the ruins of a Byzantine-Basilian chapel / chesa, A Byzantine fresco – The Deesis of San Zaccaria in Caulonia. The fresco is one of the few examples of the artistic heritage “that many centuries of Eastern monasticism have produced and accumulated in Calabria, especially after the thousand”. The work is all that remains of the ancient church of San Zaccaria, built according to tradition at the behest of a Jew named Simone converted to Christianity, damaged by the earthquake of 1783 and almost totally destroyed by that of 1908. Today of the ancient little church, as we have already said, only the frescoed apse remains and its state of preservation, already deplored by Morisani in 1962, has only worsened further. The work, datable to the first half of 1200, depicts Christ blessing, with an orthodox gesture, enthroned between the Madonna and San Giovanni (an iconographic motif that spread from Constantinople to a large part of the Mediterranean area). In the volume held by Christ with his right hand he is reported in Greek, with abbreviated words, part of verse 12 chap. VIII of the Gospel of St. John: “I am the light of the world, those who follow me will not walk in the dark”. Next to each figure also appear in Greek letters, the usual symbols that indicate the characters depicted. Below then, between the Madonna and the Christ, we can see a long sentence, always in medieval Greek characters, today largely unreadable, but that illustrious scholars have translated: “Remember Lord, of your servant Nicola Pere priest, grant him the resurrection”. The style of the work is of a certain quality, highlighted both by the setting of the figures, and by its creator has been educated in the workshops of Constantinople. This is how you arrive in 5 minutes from Stilo to the Convent of the Basilian Sisters, the only one of its kind and inheritor of a tradition that is similar to that of the Byzantine tradition, therefore of ancient art and culture. The hermitage of the Querce is a small Basilian and Catholic monastic community, made up of 6 Basilian and Catholic rites, lives, works and prays in a rural district, perched in the hills of the Calabrian Serre, according to ancient rites and re-proposing the same ecumenical lifestyle through the same activities practiced originally by the ancient order. And here the sacred manufacture of the BIZANTINE ICONS comes back to life in organized workshops of all the necessary to which you can participate as tourists or taking part in due SPIRITUAL RETREATS organized by the order that lives in stone houses with characteristic wooden roofs all built with local materials and with the help of local communities, who have also rebuilt a beautiful small and precious church in the middle of a real miniature monastic village. After leaving Caulonia behind us, you will soon reach the ancient Greek colony of Locri, a marvelous site full of great art and culture of Magno Greek origin that opens the doors on our tour to one of the most important medieval villages of Italy, precisely for its ancient Byzantine nature: Gerace. Known as the country of the 100 bells for the beauty of 128 churches present, it still has the Greek Orthodox rite and the Latin rite as in the Early Middle Ages between the ninth and eleventh century AD. and it is celebrated in several churches with a double rite like in Rossano or Stilo or has very important churches still today with a very strong Byzantine imprint and Catholic connotation. Starting from the name JERAX: Sparrowhawk, Gerace is still naturally aimed at Byzantium by nature and by nature devoted to a prophetic guarantee of future union between the schism that still divides the Catholic Church from the Greek one. The great Byzantine and Norman Cathedral could be the most significant expression in its majesty of this architectural religious syncresis. The first Byzantine cathedral is reused as a crypt and dominated by the Romanesque-Norman one. The structure is divided into two distinct parts, one corresponding to the crypt, and the other to the actual Basilica. The so-called crypt “ad oratorium” (the Catacombs) is located in the lower part of the building and has a T-shape, where the features of the ancient Byzantine church with a west-east trend can be dated between the 9th and 10th The eastern part of the crypt has a mono-sided termination with prothesis and diakonikon, in fact, in wall thickness and has a trinavian pattern with columns and capitals of spolio, coming from Greek-Roman buildings located in the area of ​​the ancient Locri Epizepiri and of the same Gerace. The transverse arm, which gives the old basilica, a T-shaped appearance, is divided into three naves by columns and capitals also of spolio and allows the communication of the ancient Byzantine structure, with a series of caves probably inhabited by monks italogreci. Serra San Bruno, among the caves, one of the caves, one of the caves of the Madonna of the Introspection, which is seen through a wonderful seventeenth-century “seats of the canons” with decorations illustrating epithets dedicated to the Virgin, in white marble on a black background. On the altar is the marble statue of the Madonna of Prestarona, probably linked to the school of Tino da Camaino and dated to the fourteenth century. The Upper Basilica is a gigantic Norman structure with three columns. Inside the Cathedral, most probably on the pillar, flanked by Roger II on the left, and the bishop of the city Leonzio (died in 1143 ca.) , to the right. This work was destroyed at the beginning of the eighteenth century by the bishop Diez, but dated back to the first half of the twelfth century. Roughly in the middle, leaving intact the perception of the large central pillars side aisles, low and very dark. The long trinished body with three large arches, by the protruding and tripartite transept covered by barrel vaults, and by a dome on an elliptical base (on the crossing square). Beyond the domed compartment, while the original apse opens with the lateral squares of the transept. medieval, to the south, beyond the monumental traces of the other apse, the monumental fifteenth century chapel dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament. With a cross vault with a complex section on a very elegant angular columns, concludes in a monumental manner, by 1438, thanks to the munificence of Giovanni and Battista Caracciolo, a series of works already begun in the first half of the thirteenth century by Frederick II of Swabia. who had seen the construction of the underlying chapel of St. Joseph The small church of St. John is a masterpiece of mysticism and religious symbolism of the Byzantine monks of the Early Middle Ages. Currently the Greek Orthodox rite, consecrated on November 5, 1991 as the Orthodox Panitalico Shrine of the Orthodox Holy Archdiocese of Italy and Malta by Metropolitan Ghenadios, is considered the oldest Orthodox Church in Italy. It has been preserved in the western side of the cusp and main entrance on its south side. On its façades there are seven arched and lateral single-light windows that allow adequate lighting. Inside there are the Diaconicòn and Prothesis, next to the protruding apse, traces of frescoes and a cistern for the collection of rainwater. The Church of Santa Maria del Mastro is a UNESCO heritage, the building, historically one of the most important in the city in the eleventh century. , due to its total reconstruction following the earthquake of 1783. A careful campaign of archaeological excavations has brought to light important protomediocated phases which see, on a lay-by phase, the construction of a small church, probably Byzantine, incorporated by a larger Norman building, from which important stucco fragments come with phytomorphic and zoomorphic decorations certainly close to Sicilian-Arab styles. The nineteenth-century façade is dominated by a majestic portal supported by columns on plinths. On the right stands the bell tower with a square section.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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