Giant robotic spider perched on Notre Dame Cathedral

I spotted this on Twitter, with a great comment by Andrew Cusack:

From CNS:

Ottawa archbishop surprised by negative reaction to robotic spider on cathedral

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

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.


Not exactly Itsy Bitsy Spider.

Look.  I don’t want to make this seem more serious than it is, but it reminds me of something I learned about during my individual instruction as I entered the Church… no, not in seminary, where you would think this would be taught.  HA!  Given that place and those days, that makes me chuckle.  But I digress…

Once upon a time we paid a lot of attention to theological censures so as to protect the integrity of the Faith and prevent people from being mislead (in the case of falsehood) and confused (in the case of fuzziness).

One of the labels for something to be avoided was “offensive to pious ears” or piarum aurium offensiva.  A verbal expression is piarum aurium offensiva when it shocks the Catholic sense and delicacy of the faithful.

Today we run into this all the time, don’t we?  We hear dreadful statements like the one from the Superior General of the Jesuits who said that there was no tape recorder in the time of Jesus. HERE Hence, he suggested that we can’t know what Christ meant when Scripture records his words.  That is something at least “offensive to pious ears”.   Another category is male sonans, something that “rings badly”, that make you say, “That doesn’t sound right at all!”.  Something is male sonans when improper words are used to express otherwise acceptable truths. An example of this is when the same Jesuit Superior said that the Devil was a “symbolic construct” HERE.  Statements like that are imprudent and harmful, especially because an authoritative person said it.  Mind you, it could be that the Superior’s words were even worse than that, but he attempted to walk them back a little.

In case you were wondering, on list in descending order of gravity

  • hæretica (heretical)
  • erronea (erroneous)
  • hæresi proxima (next to heresy)
  • errori proxima (next to error)
  • temeratia (rash)
  • ambigua (ambiguous)
  • captiosa (captious)
  • male sonans (evil-sounding)
  • piarum aurium offensiva (offensive to pious ears)

Male sonans and piarum aurium offensiva were low on the list of censures, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t taken seriously.

That spider contraption is piorum oculorum offensiva … offensive to pious eyes, and they should have known that before putting it up.

Just because something is “really cool” or has that “wow!” factor, doesn’t mean that it ought to be displayed in or near the sacred precincts of the Church, which ought to be the porta caeli and ianua caelestis.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Richard A says:

    Just start referring to it as “Shelob” in any public discussion.

  2. jgrigorian says:

    Just leaving Montreal. At the airport as I write this – I attended a light show at Notre Dame. poor judgment to attend and really poor decision to turn the church into a showplace .

  3. Charles says:

    Reminds me of a certain light show projected on the facade of a certain Roman church…

  4. Why wasn’t the idea of a mechanical spider parked on the cathedral offensive to the pious eyes of the archbishop and his staff?

  5. Kerry says:

    (Richard, agreed.)

    ‘Galadriel!’ he said faintly, and then he heard voices far off but clear: the crying of the Elves as they walked under the stars in the beloved shadows of the Shire, and the music of the Elves as it came through his sleep in the Hall of Fire in the house of Elrond.
    Gilthoniel A Elbereth!
    And then his tongue was loosed and his voice cried in a language which he did not know:
    A Elbereth Gilthoniel
    o menel palan-diriel,
    le nallon sí di’nguruthos!
    A tiro nin, Fanuilos!
    And with that he staggered to his feet and was Samwise the hobbit, Hamfast’s son, again.

    ‘Now come, you filth!’ he cried. ‘You’ve hurt my master, you brute, and you’ll pay for it. We’re going on; but we’ll settle with you first. Come on, and taste it again!’

  6. PA mom says:

    While reading the article, I scrolled up twice , certain that I had missed the reference to the Onion.

    How repulsive is that contraption! I thought spiders were supposed to be a symbol of evil.

  7. Fr AJ says:

    This looks so creepy, yet I am not surprised the Archbishop would see no problem with it such is the state of things in the Church today.

  8. jaykay says:

    male sonans (evil-sounding)
    piarum aurium offensiva (offensive to pious ears)

    That covers so much of NuChurch, and especially its choice of music, tambourines included.

  9. sea the stars says:

    Well it seems “Mamam” finally has hatched her “bebe”:

    Truly creepy.

  10. FranzJosf says:

    I’m in Ottawa at the moment. Just left the cathedral church. The spider is down and across the street in front of the National Gallery. I guess one could interpret it as an attack that has been repelled. Thank you, Saint Michael.

    Incidentally, the inside is glorious. Old High Altar and Bishop’s Throne are intact. The ironing board is modest, removable, and not in bad taste,as those things go.

  11. Unwilling says:

    Archbishop Terrence Prendergast is one of the most faithful and solid of Canadian Bishops. His judgements and actions are consistently good. But Anita Moore asks the valid question “What were you thinking?!” I cannot imagine how he came to approve it (especially since he/they anticipated offence) but I would plead for his bona fides and innocence of deliberate offence.

    [As consolation, I am delighted that it occasioned the fascinating article by Fr Z here.]

  12. yatzer says:

    I was expecting to find this was either from the Onion or Eye of the Tiber. But no!

  13. Poor Yorek says:

    I thought De Defectionibus dealt with a spider in the chalice, but this is over the top! ::cough::

    [Good reminder. But… what a thought.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  14. ghp95134 says:

    “Kumo” is Japanese for spider. But you’ve got to say it properly or you end up saying “cloud” instead.

    [kinda like “ame” is both rain or candy … depending on the way you say it. ]

    I’m always saying both words wrong!!

    Nihon-go wa taihen muzukashii desu~yo!

  15. amenamen says:

    “Most impressive, … if a little ungainly”

    Eighty foot tarantulas are nothing new in the “Wild, Wild West”, but they really do not belong on the cathedral roof.

  16. Cradle Catholic says:

    I live in Ottawa, and did not go to see this ‘celebration’ on the roof of the Cathedral. Deeply offended by even the thought of it. Reminded me of the light show horrow shown on St. Peter’s in Dec 2015.

    The archbishop is an intelligent man. It is my understanding that the rector of Notre Dame in Ottawa was against it, but the archbishop overruled him. In my view,the archbishop’s excuse is lame. Why did he not consult with the parishioners of Notre Dame – in fact – with all the parishes in Ottawa? This approval was given a year ago, he had time for consultation. The archbishop knew it would offend… his own rector was offended. …

  17. trespinos says:

    That spider is most definitely offensive. However the spider is not universally taken for a symbol of evil. Visitors to the mountain-hugging town of Taranta Peligna in Italy’s Appenines notice the sign of a spider displayed even outside a sacred precinct. Why? Because the town’s main industry used to be weaving woolen goods, and the spider is a weaver.

  18. Thanks for this. I was just talking to some students about it, offensive to pious ears, today.
    Now, two questions:

    Your list
    hæretica (heretical)
    erronea (erroneous)
    hæresi proxima (next to heresy)
    errori proxima (next to error)
    temeratia (rash)
    ambigua (ambiguous)
    captiosa (captious)
    male sonans (evil-sounding)
    piarum aurium offensiva (offensive to pious ears)

    I would have put proximate to heresy second. But you list it third. Source for that?
    And second, why does offensiva take a genitive? Yes, I always see it this way, but, well, why?
    Thank ever, edp.

  19. TonyO says:

    Just out of curiosity: why is “offensive to pious ears” considered less serious than “evil-sounding”? I would have thought that what is (objectively) offensive to pious ears (as in, not offensive because they mis-understand or because they are superstitious, but precisely because they are pious), is worse than something that “sounds” evil even when it might not actually BE evil.

    Either way, we need to bring these censures back, make them firm and effective. Pastors should fear saying or doing things that are offensive to pious ears, because they are going to get an earful of just and righteous complaints about them (not to mention that the bishop might hear about it and do something). Nowadays, most pastors seemingly don’t give a hoot.

  20. Michael_Thoma says:

    Sensus fidelium, Holy Spirit working through the laity, hagan lio!

  21. majuscule says:

    Maybe the archbishop is into Streampunk…?

    But that’s still not a good reason.


  23. Grant M says:

    Shelob, Attercop, or one of the Spiders from Mars…

    I like spiders myself but that contraption does seem out of place on the cathedral.

  24. Imrahil says:

    Dear TonyO,

    I guess the difference is between something that sounds badly in and of itself and something that, while not doing so, merely offends the sensibilites (not the superstitions; but then, again, also merely the sensibilities) of the pious.

  25. Imrahil says:

    I am reminded of a Chestertonian saying (not literally) on occasion of some pessimist work of art in London:

    “It isn’t that, as its propagators claim, that the simple People cannot understand the meaning modern art. They understand it quite well; and disagree with it.”

  26. Just out of curiosity: why is “offensive to pious ears” considered less serious than “evil-sounding”?

    Quite simply because, a comment that is “offensive to pious ears”, is NOT evil or even incorrect.

  27. JamesF-J says:

    That thing immediately brought to mind Lord Asriel’s ‘Intention Machine’ – from Phillip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy – a spider like machine constructed in a version of Hell

  28. Baritone says:

    Leave it to us moderns to ruin the concept of the gargoyle.

  29. GregB says:

    From the article:
    Today we run into this all the time, don’t we? We hear dreadful statements like the one from the Superior General of the Jesuits who said that there was no tape recorder in the time of Jesus.
    You can say the same thing about all of our historical knowledge that predates audio and visual recording technology. There is a field called textual criticism that involves the study of manuscripts. It is my understanding that the Bible has a manuscript record that is as good as, if not better, than other manuscript records of antiquity.

  30. Unwilling says:

    TonyO says pastors should fear saying things offensive to pious ears. Agreed, of course! But his comment reminds me that the sanctions are nowadays employed in the exact opposite sense. Pastors fear saying things offensive to impious ears! Etc. for the other censures.

  31. TWF says:

    I can’t imagine Archbishop Miller here on the West Coast (Vancouver) approving such….

  32. rdowhower says:

    Where does something like this fall? And this would appear to be a diocesan-sanctioned event, no? The large billboard I saw advertising it on the freeway said “All you can repent”. A few years ago the theme was, “What a Strange Sacred Trip”, or something like that.

    This year, one of the first lines on the official page is:

    “He so loved the world, he sent many bands.”

  33. Filipino Catholic says:

    Where is a suitably sized exterminator to remove this gargantuan tarantula.

  34. Semper Gumby says:

    Well, I think there’s only one way I could support the deployment of Giant Robot Spiders: set ’em loose in the streets and scare the secularists back to Church.


    Tuesday afternoon outside St. Patrick’s Church. A young man runs breathlessly up to Fr. O’Malley, who is standing on the church steps wearing a cassock and smoking a pipe.

    “Father O’Malley! Father O’Malley!”

    Father O’Malley calmly removed his pipe and said, “Yes, my son, you seem worried and all tuckered out.”

    “What day is…” pant, pant “…Mass again?”

    “Sunday, my son…”

    “Arrgghh!” pant, pant “…I can’t wait!”

    “…and every morning at 7 am.”

    “I’ll be there tomorrow Father!” pant, pant “I’ll have to give up my morning yoga…” pant, pant “…and my midnight slam-poetry crystal-meth Commie-circus…” pant, pant “…but I’ll be there! Can you bless me until then?”

    “Yes, my son.” Fr. O’Malley made the Sign of the Cross over the young man. “May the Good Lord hold you in His hand and not close His fist too tight.”


    Er, where was I?

    Thanks for the LOTR excerpt Richard A and Kerry. When I go too long without Tolkien I get withdrawal symptoms and I start demanding everyone call me “Strider.”

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