Catholics in the Canadian capital Ottawa were shocked late last month when a giant mechanical spider appeared on the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

The creature, named Kumo, was created by a street theatre company and appeared at the cathedral as part of the Canada 150 celebrations.

Needless to say, reaction from the laity was mixed, with some calling the installation “sacrilegious”, “disrespectful” and even “demonic”, prompting an apology from the Archbishop of Ottawa, Terrence Prendergast.

“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 archbishop said.

The debacle, nicknamed “spidergate”, has drawn attention online, with many seeing it as an example of an out-of-touch clergy trying to impose “trendy” art on worshippers who long for traditional beauty.

So what does make acceptable church art? Fr Hugh Somerville-Knapman of Douai Abbey says while the Ottawa spider was not blasphemous, it might have been prudent for the diocese to have consulted worshippers beforehand. “The robotic spider was not inside the cathedral, it was a temporary feature as part of the anniversary celebrations. A spider is not an obviously satanic symbol, and it seems the diocese was motivated by a spirit of solidarity with the local community in its celebrations,” he says.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection