The patron saint of philosophers, Saint Catherine of Alexandria, has provided us with an entry in most English-language dictionaries. Specifically, it was one circumstance of her martyrdom — the attempted use of a wheel of torture — that makes possible what Merriam-Webster’s tells us below by way of a screenshot (from this page):
Here, in the words of an article by Mr. Gregory DiPippo (“St Catherine of Alexandria in the Counter-Reformation”), is a summary account of Saint Catherine’s martyrdom that includes the detail of her eponymous wheel:
The acts of St Catherine of Alexandria tell us that she was a noblewoman of immense learning in all the sciences, who at the age of eighteen went to the emperor Maximin Daia (305-312) to reprove him for his persecution of the Church, denouncing the worship of the false gods of the pagans. Unable to respond to her himself, Maximin had her imprisoned, and then brought a group of fifty philosophers to explain to her the folly of Christianity; all of these she converted to the Faith, for which they were put to death. Catherine was returned to prison, where she was visited by the empress and a captain of the emperor’s troops named Porphyry, both of whom were also converted, and soon after martyred. Catherine was then condemned to die by the famous spiked wheel which has long been known as her emblem, but which broke apart on touching her; like so many Saints whom Nature itself and the persecutors’ devices refused to harm, she was then beheaded. As the traditional Collect of her feast states, her body was carried by Angels to Mount Sinai, where first a church, and later the famous monastery were built in her honor.
From the polymathic editors of Wikipedia, we learn of many more uses of “Catherine wheel,” some truly useless, but all originating from this same detail of an early fourth-century martyr:
- Catherine wheel, an older term for the cartwheel in gymnastics
- Catherine Wheel (band), 1990s British alternative rock band
- Catherine wheel (firework), a type of spinning firework
- Catherine wheel (window), a type of spoked circular window
- The Catherine Wheel (dance), a full-length dance by Twyla Tharp, with music by David Byrne
- The Catherine Wheel, a crime novel by Patricia Wentworth (1949)
- Catherine’s wheel (crochet stitch), a needlework motif resulting in a pinwheel pattern
- “Catherine Wheels”, a song by Crowded House from the album Together Alone
- “Catherine Wheel”, a song by Megan Washington
Saint Catherine of Alexandria, pray for us!