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Surprise! Giant spider atop Ottawa’s cathedral called ‘sacrilegious’

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Catholic News Service

OTTAWA, Ontario — The archbishop of Ottawa expressed regret that several Catholics were shocked at the sight of a giant robotic spider perched on Notre Dame Cathedral.

A giant mechanical spider is seen during an art performance in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica in Ottawa July 27. (CNS photo/Chris Wattie, Reuters)

A giant mechanical spider is seen during an art performance in front of Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica in Ottawa July 27. (CNS photo/Chris Wattie, Reuters)

Archbishop Terrence Prendergast said he was surprised by the negative reaction to an artistic initiative after critics called the spider’s placement “sacrilegious,” “demonic,” and “disrespectful” of a sacred space.

“My cathedral staff and I anticipated that some … might object, but thought it would be minimal, as nothing demeaning was intended in the spider being near the church,” said the archbishop in an email interview with Canadian Catholic News.

“I regret that we had not sufficiently understood that others would see this event so differently. I say to those who were shocked that I understand that this would have been upsetting for them and that I regret that a well-intentioned effort to cooperate in a celebration was anything but that for them.”

The spider, named Kumo, is one of two giant robots created by a street theater company of artists, technicians and performers based in Nantes, France. The company, La Machine, was in Ottawa July 27-30 as part of celebrations marking Canada’s 150th birthday.

The spectacle of robots, music and other special effects drew tens of thousands to Ottawa’s downtown.

The show opened July 27 in the evening, with Kumo “waking up” to organ music from inside the cathedral. As the spider, suspended from cranes, climbed off its perch between the towers, “snow” fell from above as part of the event’s special effects.

“I don’t understand how allowing a mechanical spider to stand on the cathedral is anything but disturbing, disappointing and even shameful,” wrote Diane Bartlett on the archbishop’s Facebook wall.

Others defended the archbishop’s decision.

“While the viewer may find the juxtaposition jarring, I gather it’s supposed to be,” wrote Kris Dmytrenko. “But sacrilegious? C’mon, give your archbishop a break. This civic engagement with art recalls the Vatican’s Courtyard of the Gentiles project. Culture is a bridge.”

The decision to participate in the show was motivated by a desire to engage with the wider Ottawa community, said Archbishop Prendergast.

“We make use of the city to obtain permits for our events, and they are most cooperative,” he said. “The Good Friday Way of the Cross lets us have access to public venues (Supreme Court, Parliament Hill, the plaza in front of the National Gallery), and the police offer a security escort.

“We try to be good citizens, good neighbors and cooperative,” he said.

“To the extent that we did see symbolism, it was that, afterward, Our Lady would continue to reign, something I mentioned in a tweet right after the Thursday performance, as people I respect began to make their objections known.”

Organizers approached the cathedral staff last year. They wanted to position Kumo on the cathedral because it is across the street from the National Art Gallery, which features a large spider sculpture called Mama in its entrance courtyard, Archbishop Prendergast said. The idea was to make it seem as if Kumo was approaching Mama.

“Cathedral staff were shown other cathedrals and public buildings in Europe that had been involved,” the archbishop said. “It seemed innocent enough.

“I guess we thought people would see this as a sign the church is involved in Ottawa’s celebrations,” he said. “Many people, both Catholic and others, English and Francophone, remarked how pleased they were that Notre Dame was involved in our celebration of Canada 150.”

 

Gyapong is Ottawa correspondent for Canadian Catholic News.

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Ottawa archbishop prays for shooting victims, tells Canadians to not be afraid

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Catholic News Service

OTTAWA, Ontario — Recalling the words of St. John Paul II, Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast called upon Canadians not to be afraid in the wake of the Oct. 22 shooting that left a Canadian soldier dead and forced lawmakers to barricade themselves inside their parliament offices.

Flags fly at half-mast on the Canadian Parliament buildings in Ottawa, Ontario, Oct. 23. Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a Canadian soldier, was shot and killed while on duty at the nearby National War Memorial. (CNS photo/Warren Toda, EPA)

Flags fly at half-mast on the Canadian Parliament buildings in Ottawa, Ontario, Oct. 23. Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a Canadian soldier, was shot and killed while on duty at the nearby National War Memorial. (CNS photo/Warren Toda, EPA)

In an email interview a day after the incident, Archbishop Prendergast noted that the violence occurred on the feast of St. John Paul and recalled the saint’s first words when he was elected pope in 1978 were, “Don’t be afraid! Open your hearts wide to Christ.”

“These words apply most appropriately to this present moment in our life in the nation’s capital, but they speak also to all Canadians,” the archbishop wrote.

Authorities said a gunman killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a member of the army reserves from Hamilton, Ontario, who was guarding the tomb of the unknown soldier at the National War Memorial blocks from parliament. The assailant, whom police identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, made his way to the parliament where he fired multiple times before he was shot and killed.

“God is still the Lord of our lives and is at work in the hearts of the bystanders who attempted CPR, called the police and other first responders who showed themselves courageous in putting their lives at risk in a moment of crisis,” Archbishop Prendergast said. “We have much to be grateful for. To live with moral certitude is to presume people mean me/us well and we should live out of that conviction.

“And while remaining alert to signs of behavior that can be harmful, we need to go about our business as the friendly and welcoming people I have come to know Ottawans to be,” he said.

The morning of the shootings, Archbishop Prendergast was in Blessed Sacrament Church in Toronto celebrating the funeral of a friend when he first heard the news.

“As I went back to the sacristy, someone mentioned that there was a terrorist action going on in Ottawa in generic terms, that much of Ottawa was on lockdown and that I should check to see whether I could fly to Ottawa in the afternoon,” he said. He was planning on an afternoon flight to he could host his annual Archbishop’s Charity Dinner that evening. More than 700 tickets had been sold.

The archbishop and his staff decided to cancel the dinner in the wake of the shootings. He said the food that had been prepared was delivered to the Shepherds of Good Hope for distribution to Ottawa’s needy residents.

In a press release announcing the cancelation, Archbishop Prendergast offered prayers for the victims.

“Let us offer our prayers to God in support of those who have been most affected by today’s events. As we do, let us also thank God for the beauty of our country and for the blessings of peace and security which are the blessings bestowed upon Canadians,” the statement said.

 

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