Torture Instruments from Medieval Times - BREAKING WITH A WHEEL

This work of art, depicting Saint Catherine of Alexandria, was created by Carlo Crivelli around 1470. It is located at the Sanctuary of San Francesco in Montefiore dell 'Aso (Italy). It is part of an altar polyptych (the left outer panel). St. Catherine was one of the most-important saints of the Middle Ages. She is also known as “Saint Catherine of the Wheel.” The image is online via Wikimedia Commons.


To us, "the wheel" may seem like an ordinary wooden device that moves a carriage. To a medieval person, this wheel was a feared device which produced unbelievable, staggering torture.

The wheel was a favored instrument of terror in Germany during the Middle Ages. According to a German chronicler, victims of "breaking with a wheel" became

...a sort of huge screaming puppet writhing in rivulets of blood, a puppet with four tentacles, like a sea monster, of raw, slimy and shapeless flesh mixed up with splinters of smashed bones.

But that wasn't the end of it. Limbs were woven around the spokes and the wheel was hoisted up so birds could peck away. Death was usually slow in coming.

St. Catherine of Alexandria (to whom Joan of Arc prayed) was slated to die this way. So were lots of other folks. But breaking a person with the wheel was just one barbaric method of extracting confessions. Another device was the "Judas Cradle."

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jul 01, 2000

Updated Last Revision: Jun 02, 2019

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"BREAKING WITH A WHEEL" AwesomeStories.com. Jul 01, 2000. Feb 25, 2020.
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