Breaking wheel  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The breaking wheel (also known as the Catherine wheel) was a torturous capital punishment device used in the Middle Ages and early modern times for public execution by cudgeling to death. It was not used for coercion through torture.

Execution of St. Catherine

Medieval hagiographies, such as the Legenda sanctorum, record that St. Catherine of Alexandria was executed on one of these devices for refusing to renounce her Christian belief, which thereafter became known as the Catherine wheel, also used as her iconographic attribute. The wheel miraculously broke when she touched it; she was then beheaded. As an attribute it is usually shown broken in a small version beside her, or sometimes as a miniature she holds in her hand; the sword then used is also often shown.

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