Catherine Wheel Fireworks – A Gruesome History

Catherine Wheel – everyone knows them as a traditional firework, but the origins are much more gruesome than that. The original Catherine Wheel was the torture instrument on which St Catherine was martyred in the middle ages.

St Catherine is a Christian saint and martyr who is claimed to have been a noted scholar in the early 4th century. In the beginning of the fifteenth century, it was rumoured that she had spoken to Saint Joan of Arc. The Orthodox Churches venerate her as a “great martyr”

It is said that she visited her contemporary the Roman Emperor Maxentius in an effort to convince him of the error of his ways in persecuting Christians. She succeeded in converting his wife, the Empress, and many pagan wise men whom the Emperor sent to dispute with her, all of whom were subsequently martyred. Upon the failure of the Emperor to win Catherine over, he ordered her to be put in prison; and when the people who visited her converted, she was condemned to death on the breaking wheel (an instrument of torture). According to legend, the wheel itself broke when she touched it, so she was beheaded instead.

Ever since Catherine has been associated with spinning wheels and eventually Catherine Wheel Fireworks – which is how she is best remembered now, immortalised in a beautiful spinning display of colour and light.

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