Catherine wheel (firework)

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The Catherine wheel (Catharine wheel, pinwheel, trumpilyo in the Philippines) is a type of firework consisting of a powder-filled spiral tube, or an angled rocket mounted with a pin through its centre. When ignited, it rotates quickly, producing a display of sparks and coloured flame.

In Malta, Catherine wheels are very popular, and in Maltese, they call them "Irdieden". The most known place for Catherine wheels is Haz-Zebbug, where they fill a whole road with them, from small wheels to large, complex gear work. Different types of wheels – including "timed," "gearwork," and "simple" – last for different durations. One type of Catherine wheel arrangement is the 'five-wheel piece', which consists of four wheels placed in a form of a cross, and one in the middle. Another type is the 'star piece', which is usually big (4 metres in diameter) and 8 or 10 shaped diamonds rotate on a base, which create an opening and closing star effect.

Catherine wheels are also very popular in Great Britain. Readers of the Harry Potter novels may be familiar with the Catherine wheel, as one runs rampant, an apparently not uncommon problem, during Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

The firework is named for a Catholic martyr. Catherine of Alexandria lived during the fourth century A.D., and was by all accounts an uncommonly well educated woman. In addition to being well read, she participated in debates with leading members of society, and successfully converted many highly placed individuals to Catholicism. As a result, she was condemned to “breaking on the wheel,” a death which involved having one's limbs broken and threaded through an abundantly spoked wheel. The victim would succumb to his or her injuries, but only after several days. However, the story has it, when Catherine touched the wheel it miraculously flew into pieces, so she was beheaded instead.

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