Where is the church in reenactment?

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ed123
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Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby ed123 » Mon Dec 01, 2014 8:33 pm

I like going to medieval fairs and I'm curious about getting into reenacting but I have a question. Where are the people reenacting things to do with the medieval church? The only people I see dressed as monks are normally at stall selling something which doesn't seem to do justice to the place of the church in the medieval world. Have I just been to the wrong shows or is this the norm?

I ask because I'm a part time theology student and would be interested in portraying some kind of religious figure if I was going to get into reenacting. Do many groups have a priest amongst their number? If not, is there some reason for that which I'm missing? :wasntme:



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby czartank » Tue Dec 02, 2014 12:10 am

I know that the white company used to have monks and there have been a few preachers in the ranks of the ECWS.


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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby saracen » Tue Dec 02, 2014 1:04 am

Religion plays far too minor a role in medieval reenactment, perhaps reflecting the diminished contemporary role of Christianity. I think it would be great for you to portray a religious figure and I'm sure there must be groups that would welcome such an addition to their ranks.



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby Brother Ranulf » Tue Dec 02, 2014 8:09 am

It's a very good question and I believe the reasons are far more complex than just the reduction in faith mentioned by Saracen - after all, medieval Christianity (the Church of Rome) was very different to the Church of England experience most people of a certain generation grew up with over the past 60 years or more.

Medieval religion was something to be observed, witnessed, rather than to take part in. Services were mainly in Latin, the service books were in Latin and the best that most of the congregation could do was to learn where to say "Amen". Yes, the sermons would be in the common tongue but this was only a small part of a full service. The underlying concepts of the time (Miracles, Penitence, Heresy, Indulgences, Resurrection of Souls, Pergatory, the Mass and so on) are completely alien ideas to most people today.

In addition, anyone hoping to take on the role of a priest, a monk, a bishop or other cleric of the time has a huge learning curve in front of them. Prayers in Latin, the Holy Offices, blessings, the Grace at meals, the liturgical calendar and associated colours, feast days and the lives of the Saints and Martyrs, Church history, the layout of monasteries and the correct use of vestments and equipment, manuscript production, pilgrimages and hospitals are only a very small part of what you need to know.

At one small village event I attended a few years ago the day ended with a medieval banquet for the villagers, attended by the local vicar. I said the Latin Grace as it would have been said in the 12th century and the vicar later challenged me for not using the correct modern version - I resisted the temptation to enter into a long religious and historical debate on the development of prayers, but the point is that I was able to be historically accurate because I had done those many years of research. After more than 14 years I am still learning about the subject today.

In my experience most people today have no idea what a genuine medieval priest looked like, what they did or how they lived. Their ideas are coloured by the totally false impressions fostered by Hollywood. While there is certainly scope for more clerics in re-enactment circles, this must (in my humble opinion) be done in a way that accurately reflects the historical fact, not modern fiction. It is a considerable and daunting challenge, which may explain the scarcity of such roles today.


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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby saracen » Tue Dec 02, 2014 9:25 am

You know, brother, I wasn't suggesting I knew the whole reason for the lack of religion in reenactment. I do think altered attitudes play a role, however. It is perhaps similar to the reluctance some feel to role play medieval status and deference. You are of course right about the nature of the lay experience. I guess I would like to be more encouraging to the OP. As a theology student he may well be up for doing the research. We all have to start somewhere and telling a beginner that these roles aren't done because they are too difficult to get right is perhaps discouraging. Also, I just don't think its primarily the complexity that puts people off - most people I would suggest don't realise the issues you rightly raise.

I'm a medieval musician, another role that is often not got right, in terms of the music of medieval Europe being very different from today's music in key ways. I could wish everyone 'got' this but I'll encourage everyone to have a go and give guidance when asked.



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby Phil the Grips » Tue Dec 02, 2014 9:26 am

You'd also have to explain them in context- standing in a field of tents is unlikely (I always felt a bit daft when doing stuff as a Deacon at events as there was nowhere to be be), more likely if you can excuse a chaplain-type role if you have a real "bricks n mortar" domestic setting to play in (I once did a C10th wedding in a house, and helped with others at various castles, where this worked well even if the venue was actually several hundred years in to the future in reality), very likely if you are reenacting in an actual church (which I know Regia have done in York).


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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby ed123 » Tue Dec 02, 2014 1:32 pm

Thank you to everyone for your replies!

As you say Saracen, I'm sure that the lack of faith in the modern world is part of the reason. Since society doesn't place much value on organised religion I guess there's less interest in reenacting it.

Brother Ranulf, I do appreciate your point that it is perhaps difficult to portray a medieval religious well. Being a practising Catholic I'm at least passingly familiar with the modern forms of everything you mention and, although I don't know anything about their medieval versions, I suspect that the modern Roman Catholic church still preserves quite a bit of medieval practice. We still venerate the saints, and there are different liturgical colours for different occasions for example. Finding out about all that is one of the reasons I'm interested in reenacting. :) Obviously much of the research would depend on the period but could you, or indeed anyone else, recommend any good general sources to start with?

Phil's point about having a context is also well taken. Perhaps portraying a member of one of the mendicant orders would be the way to go?

Finally if anyone reading this is part of a reenactment group in Surrey or Sussex who want another member, do feel free to drop me a PM.



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby Brother Ranulf » Tue Dec 02, 2014 2:37 pm

I honestly wasn't trying to put you off, in fact i am really pleased to see new people looking at the religious aspect of the hobby. I have seen some really bad attempts in the past and I guess it has made me anxious, or at least concerned. I do appreciate that having a Catholic background is a major plus (something I missed out on myself) and I wish you every success.

It wasn't possible to recommend any books before as I didn't know which particular part of the clergy interested you. There has been a recent outpouring of books (of varying quality) published by Boydell Press - I have copies of "The Cistercians in the Middle ages" by Janet Burton and Julie Kerr (excellent) and "The Benedictines in the Middle Ages" by James G Clark (very heavy going . . .).

In the same series, for the mendicant orders, are:

The Franciscans in the Middle Ages by Michael Robson

The Other Friars - The Carmelite, Augustinian, Sack and Pied Friars in the Middle Ages by Frances Andrews

I can not comment on these as I have not seen them myself, but they have both received good reviews on Amazon. They could be a good starting point.

There is also this book from Tauris publishing:

The Friars: the Impact of the Medicant Orders on Medieval Society by C H Lawrence, which also has a good review.

Let me know if I can offer any advice on any aspect - getting the right clothing is always a good start.


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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby ed123 » Tue Dec 02, 2014 2:59 pm

Thank you Ranulf, I'll definitely take a look at the books you suggest. I think that any detailed research will have to wait until I have found a group and have a specific period and context to work with. If/when that happens , I'll definitely take you up on the offer of help.
:-)



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby saracen » Tue Dec 02, 2014 3:06 pm

An early Franciscan would be great! Not least because I am currently writing about one (fiction) and we can help each other out... Hope you find a group and good luck with the research. Thanks for the book recommendations Brother R.



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby kael » Tue Dec 02, 2014 6:07 pm

We've been displaying an Anglo-Saxon ecclesia for years, but sadly our Abbot is retiring, so I expect it to fall by the wayside :(

He portrayed a Benedictine Abbot, and there are several monks and nuns who do things like candle making, leechdoms and calligraphy, but don't really look after the church service etc.



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby 40/- freeholder » Tue Dec 02, 2014 6:31 pm

A very memorable aspect of one medieval church fayre I did a couple of years ago was the incumbent vicar leading a penitential procession, chanting Sancte XXX (went through a list of saints) and the procession responding Ora Pro Nobis. Extremely simple but very moving. I would have thought that something similar would be appropriate in camp on the eve of battle.



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby guthrie » Tue Dec 02, 2014 9:49 pm

ed123 wrote:I like going to medieval fairs and I'm curious about getting into reenacting but I have a question. Where are the people reenacting things to do with the medieval church? The only people I see dressed as monks are normally at stall selling something which doesn't seem to do justice to the place of the church in the medieval world. Have I just been to the wrong shows or is this the norm?

I ask because I'm a part time theology student and would be interested in portraying some kind of religious figure if I was going to get into reenacting. Do many groups have a priest amongst their number? If not, is there some reason for that which I'm missing? :wasntme:

What Brother Ranulf said is correct. I've been looking into religious stuff myself, and there are some really useful books out there, but translating it into a re-enactment scene is something else.
For instance, you mention a priest. What would a priest be doing hanging about a camp full of soldiers? Edward II had some with him when he came north to Bannockburn, yet I am not sure what they would really have done. For any reasonable sort of portrayal you would need some nice bits and pieces, maybe a bible, appropriate liturgical apparatus.
Or you attach yourself to a household, many had friars in that role.

But the problem is still how do you engage with the public about religion? "Hi, do you know the 7 deadly sins?" or "Do you want to learn about medieval christianity?"

There is also the point that many people will feel they don't want to play up to stereotypes or misrepresent the actual medieval religion. And people who don't care about misrepresenting it usually have other things to be doing.

I have found "Catholic England faith, religion and observance before the reformation" by R. N. Swanson a good introduction to the reality of Catholicism in England in the later medieval period. There's another modenr book about what people thought and believed and how they behaved, but I can't recall what it is called.
The early English Text society has some nice relevant source material, such as the "Lay folks Mass book", four texts of, with various notes and suchlike, which cover what was expected and said/ chanted in a Mass. (I managed to find an 1879 first edition online for a reasonably cheap price)



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby ed123 » Wed Dec 03, 2014 12:01 am

Saracen, if I end up portraying a Franciscan I let you know.

Kael and Freeholder, it's good to know that there are people doing church stuff.

Guthrie, bear with me here as I'm obviously a beginner, but I imagine a medieval priest would have done similar things to a modern priest. The main duty of a Catholic priest is to administer the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and whilst I imagine that reenacting an entire mass would be complex I dare say it could be done. That said I should think there are simpler places to start. At a battlefield, I imagine that hearing confessions would have kept a priest busy before the battle and administering the Last Rites would have kept him busy afterwards, what with all the injured. Catholics believe that if they die whilst in a state of sin they go to hell. Even today it's not uncommon for people to go to Confession before taking a plane journey and I presume that this mentality was much more widespread in the Middle Ages.

In more peaceful surroundings other activities would presumably include prayer, baptism and preaching all of which seem to be potentially reenactable - is that a word? In fact one of my first thoughts was to find out about medieval prayer with a view to reenacting it. As for engaging with the public I presume it would be much the same as demonstrating anything else - people would watch and ask questions.

Does that make any kind of sense? :^)



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby guthrie » Wed Dec 03, 2014 10:31 am

ed123 wrote:Saracen, if I end up portraying a Franciscan I let you know.

Kael and Freeholder, it's good to know that there are people doing church stuff.

Guthrie, bear with me here as I'm obviously a beginner, but I imagine a medieval priest would have done similar things to a modern priest. The main duty of a Catholic priest is to administer the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist and whilst I imagine that reenacting an entire mass would be complex I dare say it could be done. That said I should think there are simpler places to start. At a battlefield, I imagine that hearing confessions would have kept a priest busy before the battle and administering the Last Rites would have kept him busy afterwards, what with all the injured. Catholics believe that if they die whilst in a state of sin they go to hell. Even today it's not uncommon for people to go to Confession before taking a plane journey and I presume that this mentality was much more widespread in the Middle Ages.

In more peaceful surroundings other activities would presumably include prayer, baptism and preaching all of which seem to be potentially reenactable - is that a word? In fact one of my first thoughts was to find out about medieval prayer with a view to reenacting it. As for engaging with the public I presume it would be much the same as demonstrating anything else - people would watch and ask questions.

Does that make any kind of sense? :^)

See, being a modern Catholic helps. I'd forgotten about the confession thing. IIRC medieval priests really only asked to hear it once a year around Easter time, and there were complaints that some congregations were so large that it was impossible for one man to hear them all.
On a re-enactment setting, I suppose you could wall off bits of a tent, I don't really know how they did it in medieval times but you'd want some privacy and some people primed with the corrext behaviour for before and after confessing.

There were of course the different grades of religious man, canons and suchlike, and some would be tasked with saying masses half the day, others wouldn't. For baptism you would want a font and source of holy water of course, and it would be good to try it in a medieval castle or two.
Preaching wise, it seems to me that you'd need a church, that priests didn't just stand and preach in the streat, that was more the territory of the friars (assuming they had appropriate permissions). Our re-enactment settings are already slightly wrong enough that unless you have a portable church, it would seem even more out of place.
Plus to do it right you'd need what, half an hour, an hour? And somehow to persuade a bunch of re-enactors to stand about listening for much of that time?

So it's all do-able, but as Brother Ranulf said, quite difficult, which is why people haven't done it much.



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby kael » Wed Dec 03, 2014 2:59 pm

I guess in re-enactment we try and present drama as much as just showing a particular facet of religious ceremony. A full Catholic mass is pretty dull for the general punter and re-enactor alike which is why it's seldom done. We have tried other set-pieces though. For example, a public excommunication (the whole bell, book and candle). We've done other church-administered punishments and ceremonies too - such as trial by ordeal (ordeal of ingestion, and ordeal of boiling water - for the former, their is of course the Eucharist, so at least we get to show a section).



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby ed123 » Wed Dec 03, 2014 3:49 pm

I have to say it's really interesting talking to you guys about it. Kael, it sounds like your group have managed to integrate religion with the rest of the 'drama' you present which I guess is an ideal situation.

One of the nice people from Conquest has also been in touch and pointed out that priests were scribes and book-keepers for knights which is enough to explain their presence in a camp, and that the work associated with that is another side of the role. More and more I begin to see how complex and interesting it could be!



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby 40/- freeholder » Wed Dec 03, 2014 4:25 pm

Like all re-enactment, you may have to embrace compromise and eschew the large authentic events for the smaller, local medieval fayres with attendant wang as, in my region, these are often either run by church groups or held in the vicinity of the parish church. You may have to accept being the token realistic medieval portrayal but I'm all in favour of getting local people interested in local history and gradually weaning them off Disney preconceptions. Is there any way you can link into Messy Church activities? Once you're "in" with church or chapel, word spreads. I do regular events for several methodist & Anglican churches.
With my archaeology hat on, I deprecate the reformation and civil war damage to medieval structures. Interestingly, my inner puritan is aghast at candles in front of saints in Anglican churches. I have a strange impulse to desecrate the plaster statues in the catholic church and put my foot in it big time with Father X, by not realising he was Anglican rather than catholic. And, yes, my fingers were itching for half bricks in his church. Meeting his wife, I was forcibly reminded of Queen Elizabeth's response to the first protestant Bishop's wife: "Madam, I know not how to call you."



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby Brother Ranulf » Wed Dec 03, 2014 5:33 pm

Conquest is only partly correct in saying that noblemen had priests attending them.

Priests were almost always incumbents in parishes, serving the local population and depending onthem for income - mainly from performing marriages, burials and baptisms. They were appointed by whoever held the "advowson", usually a monastery or bishop.

A knight would often build himself a private chapel within his castle and/or manorial complex. Then he would find a "spare" priest (one ordained but not yet allocated to a parish) and employ him as a chaplain. The difference was that chaplains could not perform weddings, burials or baptisms (the perogative of a parish priest) - their main functions were to hear confessions, say Mass and chant regular prayers for the knight, his family and his ancestors. A chaplain was paid, fed and maintained by the knight so he did not depend on parishioners for income. He was a "private priest" working for the knight.


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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby guthrie » Wed Dec 03, 2014 6:01 pm

Wasn't there also some friction between friars and local priests on the matter of who was allowed to hear confession and who was allowed to preach to normal people?



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby Brother Ranulf » Wed Dec 03, 2014 7:21 pm

At each friary there would be a majority of friars who were not ordained as priests, but with some among them ordained in order to conduct the services, hear confessions and so on. The major exception was among the Dominicans, who had a very large number of ordained priests because they were intended to be a learned (educated) and clerical order from the very beginning.

The average Franciscan, Carmellite, Austin or Trinitarian friar was not a priest, so he could not perform any priestly duties like weddings (another Hollywood fabrication). Preaching on the streets, however, was at the root of all the mendicant orders and this would clearly cause some friction with parish priests.


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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby Miss Costello » Thu Dec 04, 2014 6:02 pm

I'm in a different era (1850 onwards) but I portray Salvation Army and YMCA/TocH Having been raised as a catholic, but not being a practising Christian I find it really interesting to portray these organisations and the attitude of people approaching me. Generally people want to know if I am religious and if not why I'm showing their work.



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby acecat999 » Fri Dec 05, 2014 8:19 am

for me personally portraying a godbotherer should be the same as portraying a sawbones.
should be qualified to do the job in case they are needed to do it for real. Of course theres a few Walts .... the porter who reckons hes a surgeon and the British Armt Methodist preacher.

at least 2 of our ww2 padres are also professionals at it, just as there's a couple of MOs who actually know how to deal with more the basic first aid.
I'm not religious at all but have dragged the unit along to church service because ITS WHAT THEY HAD TO DO.


Biggest problem though I think is that hardly any medieval reenactors actually consider how religious they should be. or have some idea that paganism was allowed.


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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby kael » Fri Dec 05, 2014 10:36 am

acecat999 wrote:Biggest problem though I think is that hardly any medieval reenactors actually consider how religious they should be. or have some idea that paganism was allowed.


It's interesting you should say that - it's my experience that some people are uncomfortable with the whole idea, or simply press their own religious biases onto the period. The easiest example is modern pagans who think that what they do is even related to a viking period representation of the same religion, or even that the catholic church operated in the same way as now. Or, it's when you want people in a group to 'play' a Christian congregation but they argue it's against their beliefs to wear a cross or other icon (my response is usually 'will you explode?' ;))



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby Simon Atford » Fri Dec 05, 2014 11:22 am

kael wrote:
acecat999 wrote:Biggest problem though I think is that hardly any medieval reenactors actually consider how religious they should be. or have some idea that paganism was allowed.


It's interesting you should say that - it's my experience that some people are uncomfortable with the whole idea, or simply press their own religious biases onto the period. The easiest example is modern pagans who think that what they do is even related to a viking period representation of the same religion, or even that the catholic church operated in the same way as now. Or, it's when you want people in a group to 'play' a Christian congregation but they argue it's against their beliefs to wear a cross or other icon (my response is usually 'will you explode?' ;))


I've never understood that. I'm a humanist myself but have no problem with wearing religious symbols for re-enactment as it is just playing a role.

We have priest in our group who in real life is a lay preacher in the United Reform Church. When talking out of character he mentions his own beliefs and how they differ from those of the period.



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby ed123 » Fri Dec 05, 2014 2:47 pm

Brother Ranulf: Thanks for the clarification. :thumbup:

Freeholder: Interesting idea, I hadn't really thought about doing local events but I see what you mean. I'm sure you could find plenty of kids activities to do, particularly in a catholic church which is where I would be most likely to start. That said, I think I'd want to get a bit of general reenactment experience with an established group before striking out on my own. As for your experience of Anglican churches some of them are definitely more Roman than Rome as they say - at least in terms of liturgy.

As to the question of portraying how religious medieval people were, I guess we're getting back to Saracen's observation at the top of the thread about the diminished role of contemporary Christianity. I can actually understand a pagan's reluctance to wear a Christian symbol as I would be reluctant to wear a pagan symbol. If you are religious then wearing the symbol of another religion would feel quite strange I imagine. Certainly I think it's more than just another piece of costume. I guess I probably would do it if I really wanted to portray a pagan figure but it wouldn't be the highlight of my experience. I suppose that if you don't believe in anything it's all just acting. ;-)




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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby simonw » Sun Dec 07, 2014 7:17 pm

Hello If you are still looking for a medieval group, try Paladins of Chivalry based in Croydon. www.paladins.co.uk
We have a Bishop and my persona is that of an archer having been on pilgrimage.
That covers a large subject without actually having to portray a man of god, who, as someone pointed out earlier might seem out of place, talking in a field.



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby de Coverley » Sun Dec 07, 2014 10:31 pm

Let me suggest that many people re-enact for the group social life as well as the history, but re-enacting a man of the Church means that you elevate yourself to a solo lifestyle, prior to H8 you would have been single and celibate and very well studied in theology (Catholic) in the Latin script of the time.

So portraying a man of the Church means largely alone, which destroys the social reason for (the others) joining a group of reenactors. The only options for "social" reenacting man of the cloth, would be to be either priest to a noble family (in their pay) or to be an entire order of monks. (so how do you socialise with your real life wife and family in a weekend of celibate life).

Add to that the fact that the modern populace does not understand Latin so all the original writings are foreign enough to be incomprehensible to most people.



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Re: Where is the church in reenactment?

Postby saracen » Sun Dec 07, 2014 10:56 pm

I'm tempted to suggest that a priest with a concubine and a couple of kids in tow might make a very interesting presentation, and certainly might get people talking. The everyday priest might not be particularly learned also, and there's plenty of scope for preaching in the vernacular and mixing with the laity. So I think the problem of isolation is not so major.




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