Where Does The Term Catherine Wheel Come From?

Many of us love fireworks. Whether you’re celebrating different occasions around the world like Bonfire night, New Years Eve or the 4th of July, fireworks provide entertainment for millions of people throughout the year.

Despite fireworks bringing a lot of joy and color to festivals, there’s something not so joyous behind the name of one of the most popular types of fireworks, the Catherine Wheel. So where does the name of the Catherine Wheel come from?

Use a dictionary, and you’ll find the word simply means: “a firework that revolves on a pin, making a wheel of fire or sparks; pinwheel“, but the term itself actually stems from the story of a Christian Saint.

To make a long story short, Saint Catherine was born in Alexandria around the year 287AD. She pursued a wealth of knowledge during her early years, and after having a vision of Mary and the infant Jesus, she converted to Christianity. She was called on to debate fifty scholars who were summoned by the Emperor Maxentius, and having won converts through her preaching, she also managed to convert the Emperors own wife. As a result, she was sentenced to be executed on a spiked wheel.

After she was taken to the wheel to be killed, it’s said that she merely touched it, and it broke, and so instead she was beheaded.

This is where the name of the Catherine Wheel came from, but it was still used as a form of torture and execution throughout medieval Europe, in fact it became a much more popular way for people to be tortured and killed. It’s also commonly referred to, as the Breaking Wheel.