Empire of Liberty: The Concordat

“The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.”

 

~Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

 

Excerpt from Harris Chandler’s “A History of Napoleonic France, Vol. I”, Random House Publishing, 2018.

Napoleon’s victories against the Austrians in northern Italy combined with Moreau’s victory at Hohenlinden to bring the War of the Second Coalition to a formal close at the end of 1800. Already, France found peace with Britain that April in the Treaty of London, which saw France essentially gift Britain the former Dutch Empire as the price of peace. The gift, combined with an generous gift to the Portuguese, gave Napoleon the diplomatic capital he needed to conclude the March 1801 Treaty of Zaragoza that partitioned the former Spanish Empire. That left the issue of Franco-Austrian peace lingering. Concluding on July 27, 1801 the Treaty of Nancy ended the war between France and Austria. It largely reaffirmed the provisions of the Treaty of Campo Formio, which ended the War of the First Coalition conflict between the two powers, in that is formally secured French gains in the lowlands, Rhineland and the Italies but it did strip away many of the territorial concessions that Austria had retained in Italy after the first war.

Austria ceded the Grand Duchy of Tuscany to France, which, thanks to secret provisions with Aragon and Castile in the March Treaty of Zaragoza, became the new Kingdom of Etruria. Given to Don Louis, the “astonishingly stupid” great-grandson of Louis XV and husband to the Castilian Infanta Maria Luisa, Napoleon always intended the new kingdom to be a placeholder. Louis paid greatly to maintain a French garrison in his territory and in many ways Napoleon hoped that by crowning a Bourbon as Louis I of Etruria he might placate the fanatics of that always meddlesome royal house (this was in the heyday of Bourbon assassination plots against Napoleon). Another speculation is that Napoleon intentionally created a kingdom as a trial balloon to judge the reaction of the French people. The diplomatic maneuver had its critics but no widespread opposition appeared. Still, when Louis I visited Paris in January of 1802 the visit by a member of the former royal house saw protestations by many prominent republicans. When Napoleon took Louis to the Comedie-Francaise to watch Oedipus he couldn’t help but notice the crowd cheer Philoctetes’ line “I have made sovereigns, but have refused to become one.”

Austria also recognized the various sister-republics France created across the region. The Cisalpine Republic expanded a bit at the expense of Austrian Veneto. Napoleon reorganized the Piedmont into the Subalpine Republic. In a separate treaty signed in May, Naples received its mainland territory back. The French also occupied the Duchy of Parma, another minor Italian principality owned by the Bourbons. In another combined treaty provision with the Spanish Bourbons and the Austrians, the Bourbon Duke Ferdinand of Parma would cede Parma to France in exchange for his nephew (Don Louis) to receive Etruria. The cessation would only occur after Ferdinand’s death, which happened on October 9, 1802 (amid suspicions of poison) [1]. The only sticking point was the controversial Roman Republic. French republicans refused to see it made into another kingdom as part of Napoleon’s “throne swapping” as he secured the partition of Spain nor did they want to see a return of the Papal States. Austria was not about to go to war over Rome when it barely retained Venice but Count Ludwig von Cobenzl, the chief Austrian negotiator, remained insistent. The Treaty of Nancy would not be formally ratified until the Hapbsurgs knew what was to become of Rome and the Papacy.

Thus, peace with Austria meant finding a solution to the mess in Italy. Finding a solution in Italy required a solution to one of the underlying causes of the revolution: a reconciliation between France and the Church.

Easier said than done.

One of the old three estates of the ancien regime, the Roman Catholic Church arguably took the brunt of the people’s ire during the revolution. Jacobins plundered churches of their valuables, attacked priests on the street and passed law after law against the institution. In the depths of the revolution, the anti-clerical fervor proved so intense that any street that began with the word “saint” found itself renamed and the whole calendar thrown out so that years dated from the start of the revolution rather than the birth of Christ.

Furthermore, in the War of the Second Coalition Napoleon and General Mathurin-Léonard Duphot’s campaigns ran roughshod over the Italian Peninsula with Napoleon pushing the Austrians out altogether and Duphot securing the peninsula into Neapolitan territory and even sending the King of Naples fleeing to Sicily and the Pope fleeing to Sardinia. Ever since, the new Pope Pius VII remained in Sardinia fuming at France, lobbying for a return to Rome, and decrying the revolution while keeping channels and hopes open with the new Consulate.

With his political capital at an all time high after the Italian campaign, he put his energies to good use. The French scientist Jean Chaptal would write “The boldest operation that Bonaparte carried out during the first years of his reign was to re-establish worship upon its old foundations.”

Napoleon’s relationship with religion has garnered discussion and speculation for centuries. In Egypt and Anatolia he made great deference to Islam. In the Balkans he spoke highly of the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Orthodox Church and enjoyed theological debates with eastern priests. “He did believe in the existence of God,” wrote Chaptal. “And in the immortality of the soul. He always spoke about religion with respect.” Napoleon himself would state “Were I obliged to have a religion, I would worship the sun – the source of all life – the real god of the earth.” On another occasion he said “I like the Muslim religion the best; it has fewer incredible things in it than ours.” If there is one overarching theme to Napoleon’s views on religion, it was its role as a social tool:

“In religion I do not see the mystery of the Incarnation, but the mystery of the social order. It associates with Heaven an idea of equality that keeps rich men from being massacred by the poor…Society is impossible without inequality, inequality intolerable without a code of morality, and a code of morality unacceptable without religion.”

There were key reasons for this decision to extend an olive branch to the church. Tactically, the Italian Peninsula now lie at the center of the burgeoning French Mediterranean empire. With Naples, Corsica, Sardinia and Malta clearly in the pocket of the British, Napoleon began preparing for the inevitable war by appeasing the Catholic sentiments of the Italian population he would certainly be facing. The move also shored up support amongst Napoleon’s base. Hostility towards the church was a hallmark of the French Revolution but Napoleon’s supporters, conservative, rural, skilled laborers, tradesmen and small landholders hardly counted themselves amongst the atheist rabble that drunkenly worshiped reason. Cynically, some observers saw his overtures as a way to bring the clergy of France onto his payroll. The time had come for a settlement between Paris and Rome.

Yet, this settlement could not be a voluntary return to the pre-revolutionary status quo. The property owners who benefited from the 1790’s state sale of church lands could not have their purchases reversed. The tithes and privileges of the ancien regieme would not return. There was also the sticking point of territory since, quite obviously, the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church greatly desired to return to… Rome.

In the summer of 1800 after his return from Milan, Napoleon began secret negotiations with the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Hercules Consalvi. Napoleon offered to restore full public worship if all French bishops resigned their sees and allowed Napoleon himself to select replacement bishops who were to be “nominated” by the Pope. The Church pressed back hard. Initially Pius would accept nothing less than the return of the Church’s pre-revolution position. Slowly, diplomacy began carving out a middle ground. Over the course of a year, more than 1,200 documents quietly sailed between Toulon and Cagliari. In July 1801 the Concordat was officially signed. It did take several more months for Napoleon to ratify the document as he needed to gain support in the army and the legislature where anti-clerical sentiment still ran high. Napoleon and the Pope would jointly appoint ten new archbishops and 50 new bishops. The bishops could appoint parish priests but the government retained veto power. The pope retained the power to depose bishops. The land transfers of the Revolution were confirmed ending that messy chapter in France’s history. The Concordat abolished the hated ten-day week of the revolution, returned Sunday as a day or rest, and quietly set the republican calendar to expire on December 31, 1805 with the Gregorian calendar to return at midnight on January 1, 1806. Churches across France would sing Te Deums for Napoleon’s victories (of which many were coming) and read his proclamations from the pulpit.

However, this was not a simple and happy relationship. Public processions were stringently regulated, the dissemination of Papal documents required government authorization, and the government could fix the number of ordinations that could occur in a given year. An article even regulated how priests would dress in France. France’s 700,000 protestants and 55,000 jews received state protections, an exceedingly controversial point for an age when religious minorities found few rights within the European powers. Pius VII could do little though but grin and bear these provisions if he wanted to return to Rome. The Concordat provided him the opportunity. With these provisions agreed to, Napoleon oversaw a unique constitution drawn up for Rome. In the constitution, the Pope would have supreme authority over the churches, their immediate environs, and clearly delineated boundaries of the “vaticanus ager” or “Vatican Territory” (the name coming from Vatican Hill upon which much of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Papal Apartments are found). The Roman Republic would remain with an elected unitary legislative body but the pope would be the head of state with certain nominal powers, typically intersecting with state religious issues. This allowed a solution to the mess and allowed France and Austria to finally conclude their peace treaty. On August 19, 1801 Pope Pius VII returned to Rome [2].

The Concordat itself was formally proclaimed on Easter Sunday 1802 with an illustrious mass and Te Deum at the Notre-Dame. Bells rang from the towers for the first time since in over a decade while Napoleon was received by the recently nominated Archbishop of Paris. Napoleon instructed his state officials to attend but given that many of his officials were military men, this became a humorous scene akin to herding atheist cats. Generals refused to give up their seats to the clergy and openly conversed during the sermon. Moreau outright ignored Napoleon’s order to attend and boldly smoked a cigar on the terrace of the Tuileries. The Concordat failed to appease the extremes of both the conservative old guard and the reactionary revolutionaries. Ardent Catholics fumed that the status quo ante bellum would not return while revolutionaries griped that a Corsican of all people unilaterally reversed their secular gains [3].

Yet, the Concordat allowed the Treaty of Nancy to undergo final ratification. Celebrations broke out across France and the Consul even celebrated in his personal manner. Jean Pierre Rochambeau, one of U.S. President Thomas Jefferson’s negotiators for the purchase of Louisiana Territory, remained in Paris in July 1802 and reported from the Marquis de Talleyrand’s reception celebration at the Hotel Galifet:

“It was the most magnificent thing I ever saw. [Giuseppina Grassini] displayed all the charms of a most delicious voice. She is a very handsome woman and had more diamonds on her head, neck, breast, and arms than I remember to have seen on any woman before. The Consul seemed very much pleased with her singing and Madame Bonaparte quite out of humor; for she is very jealous. [4]”

Following Napoleon’s celebrations came more reforms in Italy now that the niceties of diplomacy wrapped up. That summer, notables from Italy convened at a Congress in Lyon at the behest of Napoleon and reformed the Cisalpine Republic into a new “Italian Republic”. Also that summer, Napoleon oversaw a new constitution for the Ligurian Republic and selected its executive. On October 19, 1802 Napoleon formally annexed the Subalpine Republic into France dividing it into six new departments: Doire, Marengo, Po, Sesia, Stura, and Tanaro. While this disappointed the Italian notables who hoped the Subalpine Republic would merge with the new Italian Republic, it did give France command over the mountain passes onto the north Italian plain. He annexed the island of Elba into France in August. When Ferdinand of Parma died in October, he immediately dispatched officials and formed a French-based provisional government. Tiny Lucca received a constitution modeled on that of the French. In May 1803 Louis I of Etruria died and his wife Maria Louisa succeeded him. While Etruria remained nominally independent, clauses in its creation reserved the right to abrogate the kingdom to Napoleon.

In 1802, Napoleon withdrew his soldiers from the Helvetic Republic allowed rural revolts to upend the short-lived republican creation. Stepping in as an official mediator, Napoleon oversaw the 1803 Act of Mediation (approved just prior to his departure for the Balkans) which declared in the preamble that Switzerland’s “natural state” was a federation. Modeled on a combination of Swiss, French and American ideology, nineteen cantons (the original 13 and six new cantons) comprised the federation. The new cantons received modern representative governments while the old cantons retained their pre-revolutionary institutions. The Confederation found itself charged with providing equality to all citizens, creating and maintaining a federal army, handling foreign affairs, and the removal of internal barriers. Privileged classes and feudal lands were abolished. Every citizen in the cantons became a Swiss citizen and they were all free to move and settle anywhere in the new country. The Act created a new governing body, the Tagsatzung, which would be held in one of the six leading cities (Fribourg, Bern, Solothurn, Basel, Zürich and Lucerne) each year. In the Tagsatzung, six cantons which had a population over 100,000 received two votes while the remaining cantons retained a single vote. The Act was but another political victory for Napoleon who removed a military threat from his borders, created a successful pro-French buffer state between France and Austria and allowed for the deployment of military resources into the Balkans. He even retained the title Médiateur de la Confédération Suisse as part of his official titles for years.

The end of the War of the Second Coalition and the end of the enmity between church and state allowed Napoleon the leeway he needed to fully pursue the War of the Third Coalition. The successful reshaping of the italies allowed Napoleon the ability to begin his campaign practically on the Balkans doorstep. His reproachment with the papacy and personal belief in religious toleration (perhaps more accurately religious pragmatism) played a key role in his campaign across the deeply religious and conservative Balkans. From Catholic Agram [Zagreb] to Orthodox Belgrade and Muslim Constantinople, Napoleon’s religious flexibility helped to smooth local anxieties about the invading army and assist in the successful campaign. Like his Egyptian Campaign several years before, Napoleon’s Bosporus Campaign is littered with examples where Napoleon played amateur theologian with Orthodox priests and Muslim imams. Upon entering Adrianople [Edirne], the Consul immediately proceeded to the gargantuan Selimiye Mosque. Local legend holds that he insisted on ascending the eastern minaret to see if he could see Constantinople (surely an apocryphal story as Napoleon knew Adrianople is over 100 kilometers from Constantinople, though records indicate placing a watch on one of the minarets while the army briefly camped around the city). Another Napoleonic legend is his conversation with an Orthodox monk while encamped at Vratsa about the afterlife. An account in Claude-Francois Meneval’s memoir reads:

“While surveying the divisions on the outskirts of the town, Napoleon encountered a group of grenadiers harassing a local monk. The grenadiers, ten of them, were in a debate with the monk via the translation of two Serbian legionaries. Upon inquiring about the situation, Napoleon learned that the plain-clothed monk had entered the camp to preach his message but found himself constrained by his own tongue. After harassing this group of men, a grenadier obtained two of the nearby Serbians. One, an officer spoke French and Serb while his subordinate spoke Serb and Bulgar, the language of the monk. Upon establishing communications the grenadiers were amused to find the monk preaching about the importance of acts as a means of salvation. Apparently the monk sought an accounting of their good deeds versus the soldier’s sins for this would determine their ultimate fate in the afterlife. He had come into the camp to preach salvation and urge a remembrance that the war was but a trifle in the grand scheme of the universe.

In the days of the consulate the soldiers remained full of revolutionary fervor and religion remained out of fashion, especially amongst officers of rank as these grenadiers turned out to be.

The Consul was yet intrigued by this story and ordered the Serb translators to reply that acts, while important in proving one’s character, mattered not when the Gospels clearly demonstrate that belief in Christ is the only means of salvation.

‘The blood of Christ is the way to the father,’ replied the monk, likely without knowing he was speaking to the greatest man of the age. ‘But Theodora reminds us that while Christ’s sacrifice opens the way, one’s deeds in life pay the toll through the tollgates.

Further intrigued, Napoleon asked for further explanation. 

By now a small crowd had gathered around. Imagine the spectacle of 40 soldiers watching the Consul of France engage in a theological debate, via three languages, with a mud-splattered monk of the eastern denominations! Napoleon listened intently about how some adherents to the Orthodox faith believe in the testimony of Saint Theodora who, upon her death, was guided by angels to twenty aerial tollgates manned by wicked creatures seeking to drag sinners into the depths. Each tollgate represented a mortal sin and for each sin the soul would be required to provide a corresponding good act to counter it. If they could produce the acts, they were free to pass, though no man could realistically do this on his own. Thus the monk stressed the importance of Jesus who, through confession and belief, could wipe the slate used by the wicked attendants clean allowing safe passage.

Upon completion of the story some of the grenadiers burst out into laughter but Napoleon put up a hand and quieted the circle of soldiers, now some 50 men strong.

‘You soldiers would be wise to heed this man’s words. This is an ancient land that has long lived under the yoke of foreign invaders, in neither the comforts of Paris or Rome will you find as close a version of the faith of Christ as you will here. Deeds alone will not save any of us, but any good man knows that actions matter. I pray we have the opportunity to accomplish great deeds in the coming days, what each of you do with that opportunity depends entirely on yourselves and your honor. [5]”

Meneval’s memoir is the only mention of this story but it shows, yet again, the respect Napoleon could have towards religion when the occasion arose as well as his dexterity in using faith as a means to accomplish his own ends.

That said, Napoleonic notions of religious liberty failed to find incorporation in the nascent Serbian and Greek constitutions. At the end of the day the populations were overwhelmingly Orthodox and the revolts always hinged on the divide between a subject Christian locale and an Islamic governing class.

*

Excerpt from “The Constitution Project – Religion in the Early Constitutions of Southeast Europe”, www.theconstitutionproject.org, updated 2018.

The War of the Third Coalition and their respective experiences within the Ottoman Empire were key influences on both the Greek and the Serbian Constitutions. Religion too, and the historical interactions between Greek Orthodoxy, the Sultan’s court and the millet system, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, and Serbian Orthodoxy all played critical roles in defining the influence of religion on these documents as well.

The Greek Constitution is more religiously liberal than the Serbian in that it fails to declare an official religion, a direct response to the outrage that the ecumenical patriarch left (it was not known that we was forced) with Mustafa’s court from Constantinople. The first Article of the constitution declares:

“All religions and their recognized rituals may be exercised freely.”

However it it not a liberal document in the same way that the French or U.S. constitutions are with the clear indication of the requirement of the Christian faith in citizenship. Article 2, the first provision regarding the rights of citizens, states:

Everyone who professes the Christian faith, born or settled in Greece, are considered Greek and enjoy equal rights. [6]”

The Serbian Constitution was similar providing for freedom of religion but requiring an inhabitant in the new country to be “indigenous” and a believer in Christ (in both constitutions this was a clear attempt to expel or disenfranchise Ottoman officials, immigrants and sympathizers). Unlike its Greek cousin it did establish the Serbian Orthodox Church as the official church and religion of the state [7].

The two constitutions show a key difference in their religious aspects. In Greece, the failure of the ecumenical patriarch, the betrayal (real or perceived) of the Constantinople phanriots, and perhaps the heavier influence of the liberal French combined so that Christianity was an important factor in determining citizenship but there would be no established state church. Conversely, in Serbia the revolution was always against Constantinople, both the Muslim court and the ecumenical patriarch to whom the Ottomans granted jurisdiction over all Christians in the empire regardless if they were Greek, Serbian or Russian Orthodox (or even protestant or Catholic). Lingering anger at both the sultan and patriarch permeated through Serbian culture at the time due to the long history of Ottoman intervention against the former (longtime) independence of the Serbian Church. Founded in 1219 as an autocephalous archbishopric at the order of Manuel I, then ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople (albeit in exile at Nicaea), the new Serbian Church spread across the Balkans for over a century [8]. Recognized as an autocephalous patriarchate in 1346, the Church grew and evolved until the Ottoman conquest when, in 1463, a new patriarch was not elected and all Serbian Orthodox congregants and churches fell into the domain of the ecumenical patriarch. Thus, the privileges of Greek Orthodoxy and the role of the ecumenical patriarch in the Rum Millet only added salt to the wound. To their credit, the Ottomans did reestablish the Serbian Patriarchate in 1557 but they dissolved it in 1766 after the church’s repeated role in the various 18th century Serbian uprisings. It should be no surprise that it didn’t take long for the Serbian Patriarchate to reestablish itself shortly after the Serbian Revolution and openly flout its autocephaly from Constantinople (citing the long history of independence with the Serbian Church). This issue complicated during the Russian occupation when Serbia briefly became the Duchy of Belgrade and a complex series of attempts were made to incorporate the Serbian Patriarch into the Russian Orthodox Church which itself had become autocephalous of Constantinople in 1589 (at least formally, the Russian Church has been de facto autocephalous since 1453 with the fall of Constantinople). Thankfully for religious scholars and constitutional historians (and archivists in Moscow, Constantinople, and Peć), the Duchy of Belgrade was a short-lived entity and the return of autocephaly to the Serbian Patriarchate became official in 1805. This all combined to make the Serbian Church and the Serbian Patriarch indispensable to the new Serbian state thus the inclusion of the Serbian Orthodox Church as the official church of the new Serbian Republic, the first of the era’s new republics to have such a formal designation.

*

Excerpt from Harris Chandler’s “A History of Napoleonic France, Vol. I”, Random House Publishing, 2018.

Of course, we know that Napoleon was hardly done reshaping Italy or the church. However, upon returning from the Balkans Napoleon’s grandest reform would be enacted.

————— Author’s Notes —————

[0]: In all honesty this chapter was probably needed earlier but hopefully this retroactively clears up some of the territorial changes that occurred at the end of the War of the Second Coalition.

[1]: Many of these Italian statelet changes occurred in our timeline as well. I don’t see a reason why the timeline has changed so much yet that there would be a drastically different map of Italy. At least not yet and outside of Rome of course since the Papal States lasted much longer in our timeline.

[2]: The Roman Republic essentially equates to the same territory of the former Papal States.

[3]: For the record these quotes about and by Napoleon are all true from our timeline as is the reaction of the French officers to our timeline’s version of the Concordat.

[4]: Essentially a true quote from our timeline as well albeit from Du Pont, not Rochambeau.

[5]: Obviously this is a made up story for this timeline.

[6]: This version of the Greek Constitution borrows heavily from the 1822 version from our timeline (the first Greek Constitution). The 1822 Greek Constitution begins with a declaration of independence (unlike the US where they are two separate documents) and its first article is a statement that the official religion of Greece is the Greek Orthodox Church. It then lists several rights of citizens (essentially putting a quasi-version of the Bill of Rights first unlike the US where they were added later as amendments) before diving into the mechanisms of government. The 1822 constitution borrows heavily from the revolutionary French constitutions of the 1790’s. I wanted to use a roughly contemporary template and this was the best option. I will likely dive deeper into Greek and Serbian in-timeline constitutional history (since they are going to be important in this story) but the focus here is just on religion and the fall out from the War of the Third Coalition. The wording I’ve quoted here is taken from the 1822 constitution.

[7]: As this timeline’s Greek Constitution is based on our timeline’s 1822 version, this version of the Serbian Constitution is based on the 1835 Serbian uprising version (itself based on the Greek and Belgian constitutions). I’m using that version as a very rough template to capture the “Serbianness” of how they might write a constitution but the particulars will make these two very different documents (since this Serbia obviously cannot base its constitution on a Greek constitution also being written and a Belgian constitution that doesn’t exist). And while I was able to find a translation of the 1822 Greek Constitution to use, all I can find of the 1835 Serbian Constitution is a translation of a history of the proceedings, not an exact copy. Interestingly the history I’m using does not mention religion at all except that freedom of religion is guaranteed. I don’t know if I’m missing that information, if the interplay between Serbia and Austria/Russia/Turkey kept it out, or what but I’ve opted to follow the 1822 Greek example and put an official religion up front for this timeline’s Serbs.

[8]: The term “autocephaly” literally means “self-headed” and is the term given to the status of a church within the Orthodox Church whose primatial bishop does not report to any higher-ranking bishop. Basically it means X or Y branch of the orthodox church is independent from another branch. In our timeline the Orthodox Church of Serbia was de facto autocephalous in 1832, but not recognized by the Church of Constantinople (the ecumenical patriarch) until 1879. As in this timeline, claims of Serbia’s autocephaly can go back to 1219.

Source Material

Fine, John Van Anterp Jr. “The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey From The Late Twelfth Century To The Ottoman Conquest.” University of Michigan Press, 1994.

Greek Constitution of 1822. Bulgarian translation and notes by Konstantin Paev. English translation by Google Translate. Accessed 10/3/2018. https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=https%3A%2F%2Fsih.swu.bg%2Fsites%2Fdefault%2Ffiles%2F2018-01%2FThe%2520First%2520Greek%2520Constitution%2520Of%25201822.pdf&edit-text=&act=url.

Radic, Radmila. “Serbian Christianity.” Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.

Roberts, Andrew. “Napoleon: A Life.” Penguins Books, 2014.

Spasojević, Daniel. “One Hundred and Seventy Years After the Adoption of the First Constitution of Serbia.” Historical Archives of Niš. English translation by Google Translate. Accessed 10/3/2018. http://www.arhivnis.co.rs/cirilica/idelatnost/br%203/cstosedamg.htm#_ftnref7. 

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