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Churches of St Helena

And other religious buildings

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Far away across the field; The tolling of the iron bell;
Calls the faithful to their knees; To hear the softly spoken magic spells.

‘Time’ by Pink Floyd, from Dark Side of The Moon

St Helena has historic and more modern churches to investigate.

This page is in indexes: Island Structures, Island History, Island Activity, Island Detail

Churches of St Helena Saint Helena Island Info

Below: St. James’, JamestownSt. Paul’s Cathedral, St Paul’sSt. Matthew’s, Hutt’s GateOther older churchesMore modern churchesChurchyardsThe Portuguese Chapel, JamestownRelated buildingsGravestones and memorial windowsRead More

Please note: this website does not encourage, promote or advocate any faith or religious belief. Churches are described below solely in terms of their interest as historic buildings or examples of more modern architecture.

According to the Wikipedia:

Most residents belong to the Anglican Communion and are members of the Diocese of St Helena, which has its own bishop and includes Ascension Island. The 150th anniversary of the diocese was celebrated in June 2009. Other Christian denominations on the island include Roman Catholic (since 1852), Salvation Army (since 1884), Baptist (since 1845) and, in more recent times, Seventh-day Adventist (since 1949), New Apostolic (since 1994), and Jehovah’s Witnesses (of which one in 35 residents is a member, the highest ratio of any country). The Catholics are pastorally served by the Mission sui iuris of Saint Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, whose office of ecclesiastical superior is vested in the Apostolic Prefecture of the Falkland Islands. The Bahá’í Faith has also been represented on the island since 1954.

According to the 2016 Census, 83.8% of the resident St Helenian population described themselves as Anglican; 4.9% as Jehovah’s Witnesses{10}; 2.5% as Baptists (since 1845); 2.1% as Salvation Army (since 1884); 2.1% as Seventh Day Adventists (since 1949); 1.7% as New Apostolics; 0.5% as Roman Catholics (since 1819); 0.3% as Bahá’ís (since 1954); and 2.0% as other denominations or declined to answer (including three Pastafarians). As in the UK, the number of people describing themselves as ‘Anglican’ far exceeds the weekly attendance at Anglican churches.

Top Twenty things to do Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

Exploring our churches and other built heritage is one of our Top Twenty things to do during a visit to St Helena.

Top Twenty things to do Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

St. James’, Jamestown

St. James’ Jamestown Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

Below: Tower / Spire / Neither / SpireThe OrganOther viewsAn American Altar?All creatures, great and small

Location map:
Location Map stjameschurch Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

St. James’ sign Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

St. James’ Church is situated in Jamestown and is the oldest Anglican Church in the southern hemisphere; the present building was put up in 1774

The current structure replaced an earlier building dating from 1671 that had fallen into disrepair. The old building was sited where Nos. 1, 2 and 3 Main Street now stand). The Records for 30th September 1678 note that The Church suffered damage by the extreme heat of the weather. To be examined and repaired. The repairs evidently worked, but only for a few years: there is no further mention of ‘the Church in the Fort’ in the Records until 1711 when the wardens seek to improve the church yard. They are told it would be better to direct their efforts into repairing the Church itself. In 1714 it is noted that a Mr Tomlinson has contributed £150{11} towards a new Church but nothing happened and the following year the structure was described as worse in appearance than a poor man’s barn. Still nothing was done and in 1732 the churchwardens reported that The Chappell in the Fort is so much out of repair that it is shameful a place set apart for the celebration of divine service and in open view of strangers, especially of foreign nations.

Building of the replacement began in October 1772. The accounts for the construction show the usul entries - salaries, materials - and also 10 gallons of Arrack for the workmen! It was reported almost complete on 4th April 1774. It opened later in the year.

It seems the new Church was doomed to the same negect that was suffered by its predecessor. On 4th October 1862 the roof fell in, probably due to the action of White Ants and the church was closed until July 1866.

The clock was imported into the Island in 1787. It is no longer reliable. The organ dates from the early 20th Century, and was restored in 2009. The entire building was restored, including replacing the asbestos roof with iron coated sheets, and repainted (light grey) in 2012{12}.

One of the Seven Wonders of St Helena Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

St. James’ is designated as a Grade I listed building and is one of the Seven Wonders of St Helena.

You can download a leaflet about St. James’ (648.3Kb) and also one about the bells and clock (1.5Mb){a}

Hear the bell of St. James’ Church:

Click here to hear this audio file
Right-click to download (108.9Kb)

Click to listen Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

Tower / Spire / Neither / Spire

The 1774 building had a square tower, which was declared unsafe by G.W. Melliss{13} in 1835 and taken down in 1843. It was replaced by a spire, but this too became unsafe and was taken down at the end of March 1980.

Stone from Spire Taken to Rupert’s
Last Friday, 21st November, the stone from the demolished spire that had been laying in front of St. James’ Church for months was removed by the Public Works Department to the crusher site at Rupert’s. The amount removed is estimated in the region of 55 tons. It is hoped that this stone will form the basis for erecting a small church at Rupert’s Valley.{b}

The actual church built at Rupert’s in 1995 is made of concrete blocks (as are most modern houses on St Helena); only the Foundation Stone is actually from the old spire. Some of the spire-stone was also used to fabricate the Walcott Memorial in the church garden; more was used in the conversion of the old Power House to accommodate the Museum of St Helena.

A replacement spire, constructed to reduce weight to 5.5 tonnes with an aluminium frame faced with plywood and stainless steel sheeting on the exterior, was expected to be fitted in December 2014, but planning permission was not granted until November 2015; erection took place on 4th September 2016. The steeple is 16.3m high{14} with a lightning-protected weather vane on top{15}. The main photo (above) shows the church with its new spire, which will be floodlit for special occasions.

The original tower

1815 drawing Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
1815 drawing

Watercolour 1815 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Watercolour, 1815{c}

1820s painting Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
1820s painting

Sainson c.1840s Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Sainson, c.1840s

The first spire

The ‘Rollers’ of 1846 showing the spire Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
The ‘Rollers’ of 1846, showing the spire

c.1890 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
c.1890

1942 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
1942{1}

1962 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
1962

1963 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
1963{2}

Removing the spire 1980 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Removing the spire, 1980

The current spire, erected September 2016

Erection Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Erection{d}

Erection Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Erection{e}

Closeup Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Closeup

The Organ

The organ at St. James’ is worthy of note. Known to have been installed by Canon Walcott in 1914, it was constructed by the Positive Organ Company for a price of £205{16} and dedicated by Bishop Holbech on 21st October 1914. Today it is probably the oldest functioning pipe organ of its type in tropical and sub-tropical climes, its leather and wooden construction being particularly vulnerable to hot climates.

Although the air required is now electrically pumped, the organ was originally manually pumped. A pump operator sat behind the organ, and when the organist wished to begin playing a pedal was pressed which caused a flag to be raised at the back, signalling that pumping should begin. It is said that one pump operator fell asleep at his post and was concussed by the raising of the flag!

The organ underwent a major refurbishment in July 2009 at a cost of around £3,000{17}, and at the time of writing{18} fund-raising is in progress for another refurbishment. Creative St Helena organised a concert on 16th July 2017, featuring visiting Belgian organist Jérôme Giersé and local performers.

Organ 2005 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Organ, 2005

Organ stripped for restoration July 2009 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Organ stripped for restoration, July 2009

Restored end-July 2009 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Restored, end-July 2009

Other views

Windows renovated in 2003/4 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Windows, renovated in 2003/4

Interior view 2005 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Interior view, 2005

External view 2005 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
External view, 2005

 

St. James’ Church Altar Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

An American Altar?

Can anyone explain to us why the 6th word in the altar inscription (picture, right) is spelt the American way: ‘honor’?

All creatures, great and small

On 23rd June 1861 a service at St. James’ was interrupted when hundreds of White Ants were found eating through a desk - and then the Bible.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, St Paul’s

Location map:
Location Map stpaulscathedral Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

2nd ‘Country Church’ Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
2nd ‘Country Church’
Plantation House & 2nd ‘Country Church’ 1795 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Plantation House & 2nd ‘Country Church’, 1795{f}

The current St. Paul’s Cathedral replaced two earlier churches on the same site. The first is thought to have been built between 1675-8, just above the current church, but was of wooden construction and gradually decayed, with a 1732 Vestry Report telling of …the ruinous condition of the Chapple in the Country….

The second church (pictures, left) was built in stone on the same site, towards the end of the 18th Century or early 19th, but by the 1840s this too was decaying, with the walls propped up with wooden stays. So in 1848 the site for the present church was cleared, and work started.

Designed by distinguished London architect Benjamin Ferrey, the foundation stone was laid by Governor Patrick Ross on 6th February 1850. It was completed in 1851 and held its first service on 3rd September.

It became the cathedral church for St Helena when the Diocese of St Helena was established in 1859. The building was closed from 25th June 1939 until 13th May 1945 while White Ants damage was repaired - it was re-dedicated on 6th October 1946.

You can download a leaflet about St. Paul’s (460.6Kb).

The memorials in St. Paul’s are listed here: www.eggsa.org/library/main.php?g2_itemId=2495030.

 

St. Paul’s Cathedral Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Paul’s Cathedral

From the Lytch Gate Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
From the Lytch Gate

From the Graveyard Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
From the Graveyard

Internal view Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Internal view{g}

The Bell…and the ‘expert’s

As can be seen from Lilley’s 1860s photograph (below), the bell was not originally in the tower…but now it is. This is the history of the bell…{19}

In 1849, when the current building was being designed, one Richard Kempthorne wrote to Bishop Gray that he had received Mr Ferrey’s drawings and generally liked them, but for one criticism:

The West End…runs up into a rather high Bell turret, containing three bells. This rather disappoints me, as I had set my heart upon a LARGE bell…

It is therefore apparent that the bell tower, as designed and built and as shown in Lilley’s 1860s photograph, was intended to house three smaller bells, though at the time of the photograph these had not been hung. It can be inferred from later events that this was because concern had been expressed (presumably by an ‘expert’) that the bell tower, as built, would not support the weight of three bells.

The three bells had clearly been procured because in 1867 it was decided to hang two bells in the tower, ‘expert’ opinion having advised that this might be done without risk (the the third bell was given to St. Matthew’s Parish in 1887). No photographic or Records evidence exists to show if this was actually done. However, it is known that a single, larger bell was installed in 1886, even though this bell was not quite as large as Kempthorne desired, requiring the bell tower to be modified to its current design. This is how it is shown in the c.1903 and 1940s photos (below).

Hear the bell (in the tower!), 2002:

Click here to hear this audio file
Right-click to download (63.8Kb)

Click to listen Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

Apparently the bell fell from its mountings in 1948 and was taken down, probably because an ‘expert’ advised that the tower had become too weak. But the bell was replaced in the tower in 1967, presumably after advice from another ‘expert’; then again it was taken down in 1978 (another ‘expert’?), and in 1983 a Civil Engineer (yet another ‘expert’) advised that it would be dangerous to replace it. Despite this it was put back up again in the 1990s (one more ‘expert’), where it has remained ever since.

The ringing mechanism failed in 2007 and was repaired two years later, but the bell remained in the tower throughout.

When the bell was not in the tower it was mounted on the two white posts which can be seen in the churchyard (see main photo, above). The posts are still there, presumably in case another ‘expert’ arrives…

St. Paul’s 1860s Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Paul’s, 1860s{h}

Bell in tower C.1903 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Bell in tower, C.1903

Bell in tower C.1911 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Bell in tower, C.1911

Bell in tower 1940s Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Bell in tower, 1940s{3}

1949 no bell! Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
1949, no bell!

1962 still no bell Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
1962, still no bell{i}

1969 bell again! Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
1969, bell again!

1982 no bell Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
1982, no bell{j}

1991 on posts Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
1991, on posts{k}

St. Paul’s bell 2009 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Paul’s bell, 2009

2012? No bell Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
2012?: No bell{4}{g}

If you have anything to add to this sorry tale of warring ‘expert’s, please contact us.

St. Matthew’s, Hutt’s Gate

Location map:
Location Map stmatthewschurch Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

St. Matthew’s church is at Hutt’s Gate in the Longwood District. The original building was constructed in 1861, the cornerstone being laid in December 1861 by Governor’s wife Lady Drummond Hay. The church was consecrated on 14th May 1862 (St. Matthias’ Day).

The church was substantially rebuilt somewhere between 1915 & 1918 and much of the present building dates from then.

One window has a memorial stained glass panel depicting St. Michael which dates from World War 1 (‘The Great War’); since 2006 an outer sheet of glass protects this important memorial window.

In June 2017 it was announced that an appeal had been launched to fund £50,000 for vital repairs. The building is Listed, Grade II.

Original St. Matthew’s 1875 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Original St. Matthew’s, 1875{l}

Original St. Matthew’s c.1903 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Original St. Matthew’s, c.1903

Original St. Matthew’s c.1910 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Original St. Matthew’s, c.1910

Re-built St. Matthew’s c.1920 Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Re-built St. Matthew’s, c.1920

St. Matthew’s 1970s Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Matthew’s, 1970s

St. Matthew’s today Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Matthew’s today

St. Matthew’s area Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Matthew’s area

St. Matthew’s altar Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Matthew’s altar

Windows in St. Matthew’s Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Windows in St. Matthew’s

Other older churches

Most of the other churches in St Helena date from Victorian times. Many now have metal roofs, as a result of White Ants action. Some have original stained glass windows. St. Mary’s, The Briars was completely reconstructed in 1989 - the photos below show the old and new churches. The Baptist Church in Jamestown was located to be near the military barracks so that the troops could be ‘ministered to’.

Sandy Bay Chapel Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Sandy Bay Chapel

St. Helena & The Cross Blue Hill Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Helena & The Cross, Blue Hill

St. Martin’s-in-the-Hills High Point St Paul’s district Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Martin’s-in-the-Hills, High Point, St Paul’s district

Baptist Church Jamestown Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Baptist Church, Jamestown

Baptist Church bell Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Baptist Church bell{5}

Baptist Church middle Jamestown Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Baptist Church, middle Jamestown

Knollcombs Baptist chapel Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Knollcombs Baptist chapel{6}{g}

Roman Catholic Church upper Jamestown Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Roman Catholic Church, upper Jamestown{7}

Roman Catholic Church from Sidepath Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Roman Catholic Church from Sidepath{7}

St. John’s upper Jamestown Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. John’s, upper Jamestown

St. John’s from Sidepath Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. John’s from Sidepath{8}

St. John’s from the west Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. John’s from the west{g}

St. Peter’s Sandy Bay Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Peter’s, Sandy Bay

St. Mary’s The Briars Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Mary’s, The Briars{m}

Pre-1989 St. Mary’s The Briars Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Pre-1989 St. Mary’s, The Briars{j}

St. Andrew’s Half Tree Hollow Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Andrew’s, Half Tree Hollow

More modern churches

The New Apostolic Hall (opened 27th November 1994) is the first building identifiable as the RMS St Helena approaches Jamestown.

St. Michael’s, in Rupert’s, was first proposed by Bishop Claughton in 1860, but was not completed until 1995. The foundation stone was laid on 18th Jaunary 1995 by Governor Hoole and the church is dedicated to the memory of Bishop Edward Cannan (1979-85).{20}

New Apostolic Hall Half Tree Hollow Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
New Apostolic Hall, Half Tree Hollow

St. Michael’s Rupert’s Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
St. Michael’s, Rupert’s

Churchyards

St. Paul’s Cathedral has an extensive graveyard with many interesting tombstones. The Roman Catholic Cemetary is next door, to the south. Other churches have graveyards, but not St. James’ in Jamestown - it and the two other Jamestown cemeteries have been built over and the tombstones relocated. In Jamestown only the Baptist Church has tombstones.

If you like exploring churchyards you may want to explore other darker parts of our history.

The Portuguese Chapel, Jamestown

Church Valley in 1658 by Johan Nieuhof Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
Church Valley in 1658 by Johan Nieuhof

The Chapel Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena
The Chapel{9}

It is known that the early Portuguese discoverers of St Helena built a chapel near their landing place in what is now Jamestown, thus giving the valley its original name ‘Chappell Valley’. It is sometimes said that João da Nova himself built the original chapel, using timber from a wrecked ship of his fleet, but this has been disproved{21}, and it is sometimes reported that two friars attended the chapel but this is inconstent with other accounts. The original wooden building seems to have been replaced by a stone construction which, according to Cavendish{22} was built in 1571.

The original chapel seemed to be a target for the factions seeking to control St Helena in the 16th Century, with alternating reports of it having been desecrated, then re-built, then desecrated again. Its final fate is not known for certain, but it was presumably demolished some time before the original St. James’ was constructed in 1671.

Jamestown has been extensively built and rebuilt since the 17th Century and no remains of the original Portuguese chapel are known to exist.

Related buildings

St. James’ Vicarage internal Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

Also of interest is St. James’ Vicarage in Napoleon Street, Jamestown. Although uninteresting from the outside, inside it still contains an 18th Century open fireplace and bread oven. The vicarage is home to the vicar and his family, so is not open to the public.

Gravestones and memorial windows

The gravestones and memorial windows in St Helena’s churchs and other cemetaries are listed here: www.eggsa.org/library/main.php?g2_itemId=2610641.

Read More

Below: Historic Environment RecordArticle: Entry on the World Monument Fund watch-list

More stories on our page Read articles about St Helena.

Historic Environment Record

For more about our historic buildings consult The Historic Environment Record.

HER image Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

Article: Entry on the World Monument Fund watch-list

Published on www.wmf.org/project/saint-helena, October 2011{23}

The jagged cliffs of Saint Helena rise out of the Atlantic Ocean between the continents of Africa and South America, some 1,900Km from the nearest landmass. The once strategic and commercially important island was discovered by the Portuguese in 1502 and occupied by the British from the middle of the seventeenth century. Saint Helena served as a colonial staging post for the East India Company and was later used as a resupply point for the British seaborne fleet. The Emperor Napoleon, its most famous resident, was exiled here in 1815.

The architecture reflects the island’s storied past, with British, French, Boer/South African, and African influences. Many of Saint Helena’s heavy fortifications still dominate the coastline, and current inhabitants continue to use and adapt the company houses, stores, and forts to their daily lives.

Saint Helena’s built heritage, including Banks Battery and High Knoll, increasingly has suffered from deterioration and partial collapse as a lack of investment, government support, and legislative protection have made it difficult to maintain or improve the condition of many sites. Saint Helena is not eligible for most conservation funding available in the United Kingdom, even though it is a British Territory. Indeed, Saint Helena is representative of several overseas British territories with little access to government resources for heritage stewardship. If more resources were made available to the island, the conserved built heritage could be used to bolster the economy through tourism development, especially after the construction of a planned airport.

Closing Humour Saint Helena Island Info Churches of St Helena

Laugh at funny Churches of St Helena humour LOL Saint Helena Island Info

See All creatures, great and small (above)


Credits:

{a} From ‘The Ringing World’ Magazine, the Official Journal of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, No. 4874 24th September 2004 used with permission{23}.

{b} St Helena News Review, November 1980{23}

{c} Denzil Ibbetson

{d} Andy Simpson, via Facebook

{e} Channelle Marais, via Facebook

{f} By W. Thomas, for ‘European Magazine’.

{g} www.eggsa.org/library/main.php?g2_itemId=2610641{23}

{h} John Isaac Lilley, our first photographer?, 1861-1866.

{i} Copyright © 1962 Film Unit, used with permission{23}.

{j} Andrew/Peter Neaum

{k} Copyright © 1991 Film Unit, used with permission{23}.

{l} John Melliss from ‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island, including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology’, by John Melliss, published in 1875.

{m} Governor Lisa Phillips



Footnotes:

{1} Also shows the monument to Dr. W. J. J. Arnold.

{2} With some Classic Cars!

{3} The cleric is identified as Bishop Turner.

{4} This photo appears on www.eggsa.org/library/main.php?g2_itemId=2495030 and is dated Sat Oct 6 16:04:21 2012, but as far as we know the bell was in the tower in 2012. Can anybody help?.

{5} The chapel was completed in 1854 and includes a Meneely Foundry bell, cast in 1852 in Troy, New York.

{6} Build by Governor Hudson Janisch.

{7} How could the very small number of Roman Catholics afford such a substantial church? It was paid for by the War Department because the few Roman Catholic servicemen needed a place of worship.

{8} Also showing the Church Hall (red roof, right).

{9} From an early illustration, but we don’t know which one. If you can help, and possibly provide the original map/drawing please contact us..

{10} The New Kingdom Hall for Jehova’s Witnesses in Half Tree Hollow opened on 9th January 1993.

{11}

{12} The church was last painted in 1981, a smoky white. The light colour proved to be unsuitable as it highlighted dust and pollution from the streets and traffic.

{13} Father of John Melliss.

{14} Visibly shorter than the original. The original steeple was 69ft high.

{15} Lightning is very rare on St Helena, but is not unknown.

{16}

{17}

{18} .

{19} Many thanks to Cathy Hopkins for researching this for us.

{20} It appears, to us, to be unfinished. The blocks have not been properly pointed and it looks as though it was originally intended that it be rendered. Presumably the money ran out!

{21} For other debunked myths see our Myths Debunked! page.

{22} Thomas Cavendish is usually said to have been the first Englishman to visit St Helena, but actually he wasn’t - it was William Barrett, four years earlier.

{23} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.



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