A bizarre 'spider' artwork was placed on top of Ottawa Cathedral – and local Catholics aren't happy

ReutersThe giant robotic spider, Kumo, by Notre Dame Cathedral in Ottawa, Canada.

A bizarre giant robotic spider perched on Notre Dame Cathedral in Ottawa, Canada has caused controversy among Catholics there, with the local archbishop expressing regret that critics have called the artwork 'sacrilegious' and 'demonic'.

The Archbishop of Ottawa, Terrence Prendergast, said that he was surprised by the negative reaction to the artistic initiative.

'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,' the archbishop told 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 theatre company based in Nantes, France, the Catholic Herald reported.

The company, La Machine, was in Ottawa from July 27-30 as part of celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of Canada's foundation.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Ottowa's downtown to see the spectacle of robots, music and other special effects.

The show opened on the evening of July 27, with Kumo 'waking up' to organ music from inside the cathedral.

Suspended from cranes, the spider climbed off its perch between the towers as 'snow' fell from above as part of the event's special effects.

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

But 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.'

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

'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 neighbours and cooperative. To the extent that we did see symbolism, it was that, afterwards, 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.'

The archbishop explained that organisers approached the cathedral staff last year, hoping to position Kumo on the Cathedral because it is across the street from the National Art Gallery, which features a large spider sculpture called Maman in its entrance courtyard. The idea was reportedly to make it seem as if Kumo was approaching Maman.

'Cathedral staff were shown other cathedrals and public buildings in Europe that had been involved,' Pendergast said. 'It seemed innocent enough.

'I guess we thought people would see this as a sign the church is involved in Ottawa's celebrations. 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.'