It may be an enchanting feat of engineering to many people, but for several Catholics in Ottawa, the giant robotic spider that recently sat on their city’s Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica represented a demonic presence that desecrated a holy space. Known as Kumo, the machine was installed by French street theater company La Machine as part of Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations last Thursday, and had spent the weekend walking around the neighborhood. It even fought with Long Ma, a mechanical Dragon-Horse, in two dramatic battles.
But as Canadian Catholic News reported, some individuals were far from impressed with the 65-foot-long spider, which rises 18 feet when at rest and over 42 feet when in motion. Critics expressed their outrage on the archbishop Terrence Prendergast’s Facebook wall, with one woman reportedly describing Kumo as “disturbing, disappointing, and even shameful.” Others apparently referred to it as “demonic” and “sacrilegious.”
Prendergast has acknowledged the messages, expressing regret that his community has taken offense to what was intended as a gesture of community-building.
“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,” Prendergast 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.”
Cathedral staff had agreed to feature Kumo after the organizers of Ottawa 2017 approached them last year. The location was chosen particularly because the cathedral sits opposite the National Art Gallery, which famously features outside its building Louise Bourgeois’s bronze arachnid, “Maman.” The view of the spiders together is quite something to behold:
For his part, Prendergast was thoroughly enjoying the kinetic spider, live-tweeting its first awakening on Thursday.
Il y avait une foule immense pour le spectacle jeudi soir devant Basilique-cathédrale Notre Dame: début évènements #LaMachine #ottawa2017 pic.twitter.com/6R7C0ChHKX
— Terrence Prendergast (@archterentius) July 28, 2017
“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,” the archbishop told Canadian Catholic News.
“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.”