The Catherine Wheel, also known as the Breaking Wheel, was one of the most widely used torture devices during medieval times in Europe.
The Catherine Wheel was used to execute criminals and other accused people since the times of antiquity, although its use became more widespread during medieval times. In some instances, the wheel continued to be used even after medieval times.
This torture device is often associated with Saint Catherine of Alexandria. While the practice was prevalent throughout Europe, it was particularly popular in France and Germany.
The history of the Catherine Wheel can be traced back to antiquity when it was used as a torture device for capital punishment. References to The Wheel are also found in the works of the sixth-century author Gregory of Tours.
During the reign of the Holy Roman Empire, the punishment of the Wheel was mainly reserved for men who were convicted of aggravated murder. The punishment remained common throughout medieval times but began to be abandoned with the beginning of the early modern era.
The Catherine Wheel was also known as the Breaking Wheel since it was a device used to break the bones of the accused and crush them to death. Sometimes it was also known simply as “the wheel” and the people who faced torture and death through this device were said to be “broken on the wheel”.
The Catherine Wheel consisted of a large wooden wagon wheel that consisted of several radial spokes. A condemned person was lashed to the wheel and a club or iron cudgel was used to beat their limbs. There were several variations of the device and sometimes it also consisted of a wooden cross.
The victim’s body, after his death, could also be displayed on the wheel. Sometimes it was a very slow and painful death and people could live for as many as four whole days before finally dying. This happened with a Jewish man named Bona Dies who was reportedly “broken on the Catherine Wheel” in 1348.
The condemned on the Catherine Wheel could face the prolonged torture and in some cases, victims lived for several days. Alternatively, the torture victim could face a quick death through the blows delivered to his chest and stomach by the executioner. These blows were known as the “coups de grace” and resulted in the quick death of the condemned. The exact mechanism of the Catherine Wheel also varied from one country to another.
The Catherine Wheel was one of the most commonly used torture devices during medieval times and was also known as the Breaking Wheel. It was used to crush the limbs and bones of the condemned and often caused prolonged torture spanning multiple days.
The device was popular throughout medieval Europe, although it was more common in Germany and France. A similar device was used in ancient times and the wheel also remained in use after the end of medieval times.