Lore: The 51st Commandery

As I have stated in the past, I’m a long-time fan of Warhammer 40,000. I love the building, painting, battling, lore, etc but one area where I feel like I have been always lacking is the fleshing out of my characters and army’s lore. I usually just come up with a name for the army, maybe name a few characters and then leave it there – any “lore” they get tends to be built up organically from campaigns or impressive deeds during battle. Perhaps the most neglected of my forces is my Adepta Sororitas, which is particularly egregious since they’re also my favourite army. I’ve had this army for more than eight years now and I hadn’t even given my Canoness a name! Well, I decided it was finally time to give my army a proper identity, which was originally just supposed to be a few paragraph overview but it quickly started ballooning into a full-on army profile with several prominent named characters and personalities and a full-on photoshoot. So… yeah, where better to host that then on I Choose to Stand? It’s something a bit different compared to what I usually do around here, but I’ve been considering hosting some creative writing here for a while. Who knows, maybe this will become more of a regular thing in the future? In any case, enjoy…

The 51st Commandery

Stationed in the shadow of the towering spires of Balor’s refineries, billowing plumes of smoke to choke the atmosphere, the shrine-bunker of the 51st Commandery of the Order of Our Martyred Lady stands resolute, a bastion of the Emperor’s light. Within its cavernous halls is a convent of approximately 200 Sisters of Battle who have operated from Balor for more than a century. Following the massacre and martyrdom of much of the Order of Our Martyred Lady during the Third Battle for Armageddon, a contingent of veterans of the battle, led by the newly-minted Canoness Commander Petronilla Magdelaine, were sent to Balor to establish the 51st Commandery. Their founding mission was to provide support to the Order Fenestrus, escorting them to perform their holy duties in war-ravaged worlds in the vicinity of Balor.

However, the nature of the 51st’s mission has changed since its fourth Canoness Commander, Maria Orantes, has assumed the mantle of authority. Her predecessor, the long-serving Angela Impassia, was martyred in defence of a holy Imperial shrine on Rascella. Their position was unexpectedly overrun by Necrons and Angela gave her life to ensure the safe retreat of the Order Fenestrus. This also bought time for her sisters to reorganize and push the xenos back, but by the time they did so there was little left of Angela Impassia to salvage – having been hit by scores of gauss beams, all that could be found of her were a few scraps of cloth.

In addition to the Order of Our Martyred Lady and the Order Fenestrus, the 51st Commandery’s shrine bunker hosts pilgrims, missionaries, relic-hunters of the Order Pronatus, Hagiographers and a handful of members of the Order Familius, among others.

Following the death of their commander, the 51st Commandery had to choose a new leader to carry them forward. While the role of appointing a successor ultimately falls upon the shoulders of the Order of Our Martyred Lady’s Canoness Superior, in practice the decision is often too minor for the Cannoness Superior to personally oversee the selection. It would require a Commandery of crucial strategic importance for her to put her full attention into the decision and the 51st had not earned that level of distinction. As a result, the decision was to be delegated amongst the veterans of the Commandery and this selection would then be passed up through the chain of command for approval. This was how the selection was intended to worth in theory, but in practice the appointment could also be influenced by other interested parties capable of catching the ear of the Ecclesiarchy.

When it was announced that Maria Orantes had been selected as Canoness Commander, this proved to be controversial. The first reason for this was that, while Maria Orantes was unquestionably an esteemed warrior and battlefield leader, command was expected to be passed on to the favourite among the 51st’s veterans, Sister Superior Ludmila Stanbridge. Ludmila had long been seen as the logical successor to Angela Impassia, having proven herself a capable battlefield commander and was dedicated to strengthening the 51st’s relationship with the Order Fenestrus. There were several other candidates in the running for command, including Maria Orantes and Ludmila’s twin sister Sophia, but it was clear that Ludmila held the largest share of support amongst the veterans of the 51st.

The second reason that Maria Orantes’ selection as Canoness Commander proved controversial was that it was strongly believed that the choice was made, or heavily influenced, by someone outside of the Order of Our Martyred Lady. Despite the 51st’s clear desire for command to go to Ludmila Stanbridge, it is not unheard of for the Canoness Superior to select a successor who more closely fits her vision for the Commandery, or even send a Canoness from a completely different commandery to fulfill the role. However, this has done little to stave hushed speculation throughout the halls of the 51st Commandery’s shrine-bunker. While there is no physical evidence to support these suspicions, it is believed that the Ordo Hereticus played a hand in the selection. The Ordo Hereticus have been active on Balor for millennia, but their influence on the 51st began to be felt during the early parts of the Rascellan campaign and has only become more hands-on since Maria Orantes has assumed command. While the Ordo Hereticus and Adepta Sororitas have worked closely since their inception, there are still some among the 51st who express concerns about their loss of autonomy, feeling like they have become puppets to the Inquisition.

Foremost amongst the non-militant orders in the 51st Commandery are a number of Hospitallers of the Order of Serenity who have been ensuring that no sister martyrs herself lightly. While there are several Hospitallers serving in the shrine-bunker and abroad, the two most distinguished members amongst the 51st are Perpetua Kazuhera and Euphemia Pacifica, who have accompanied Maria on several crusades now and saved countless lives in the process.

In spite of all this, perhaps the most controversial aspect of Maria’s selection as Canoness Commander was that her methods differed greatly from those of her predecessors. As soon as she took command, Maria set about preparing the 51st for war. No longer would they be acting as support for the Order Fenestrus, they would be taking the fight to the heretic and xenos directly. For nearly a century the blood of countless martyrs of the 51st had been spilled providing support to the Order Fenestrus. As a result, this mission had taken on a holy significance among many of the veterans of the Commandery, especially among those who supported Ludmila, so this dramatic shift was met with strong opposition. However, it was only Maria’s unimpeachable faith and force of will which kept the 51st Commandery from fracturing entirely.

In her decades of service among the 51st Commandery, Maria had become well-known for her faith and fervour, which reached a level of devotion that was notable even amongst the pious ranks of the Adepta Sororitas. However, it was not always so. In the early years of her service among the 51st, Maria’s adherence to the tenets of the Ecclesiarchy was found wanting and so she was stripped of her place among the Battle Sisters and forced into the Sisters Repentia. Here, exposed to all the dangers of an uncaring galaxy with little more than her desire for redemption, Maria found her faith not only renewed but redoubled as she hurled her body at the Emperor’s foe and laid them low with the roar of her eviscerator. When her tenure in the Repentia was completed, Maria’s renewed faith found herself quickly rising in prominence among her peers until she reached the honoured ranks of the Seraphim. However, this was not enough and Maria voluntarily surrendered herself to the Repentia for a second time. It was a shocking decision as, even then, Maria was seen as a beacon of faith by her comrades. However, Maria declared to them that her faith had never been stronger than when she was in the Repentia and that she desired to temper it there once more. When this second round of trials was completed, Maria’s convictions were stronger than ever and she quickly became the Sister Superior of the 51st Commandery’s Seraphim and held this rank until her promotion to Canoness Commander.

The Emperor laid down his life so that we may live, to bring about this great Imperium. The least we can do is put our lives in His hands, to cast aside our armour and clad ourselves in pure faith. If we die, we do so knowing that it is for His glory, not our own.

-Maria Orantes, Seraphim of the 51st Commandery

Whatever differences there were when Maria Orantes assumed command, none of her Sisters could find fault in her belief and so even the most ardent skeptic among the Commandery was willing to give her a chance to either prove or damn herself. This took the form of a series of holy wars into Imperial worlds around Balor contested by expansionist xenos forces, the Necrons and the T’au. It soon became undeniable that purging these hated foes breathed new life into the sisters of the 51st and opinion began to shift in Maria’s favour. If there was any doubt about the righteousness or divine will of her cause, that was quickly washed away with the opening of the Great Rift, the start of the Indomitus Crusade and the fiery Morvenn Vahl’s promotion to Abbess Sanctorum, which saw Adepta Sororitas of all Orders across the Imperium rising up to make war.

In recent times, the 51st Commandery has been seen fighting Necrons, Tau and Tyranids ravaging worlds in the Ultima Segmentum, before being forced back towards Balor to deal with the Blood Crusade. Most recently, they have been seen fighting under the command of Morvenn Vahl herself in the Charadon system…

Forces of the 51st

Foremost amongst the heroines of the 51st Commandery is the Canoness Commander herself, Maria Orantes. After her two tenures in the Repentia, Maria has come to favour the eviscerator, both as a reminder of her trials and as a brutally-efficient instrument of death. Complementing her melee weapon of choice is a sacred inferno pistol of the Order of Our Martyred Lady, said to have been once wielded by a venerated saint. Maria Orantes leads from the front always and her sisters have learned to follow her into battle without question. While her strategic direction for the 51st comes from a deep-seated conviction to bring death to the heretic, xenos and mutant alike, Maria ultimately desires that greatest of all honours – to achieve the status of Living Saint. No member of the 51st has yet attained such a distinction, but Maria desires this goal above all else. When the time comes for her martyrdom, she prays that her deeds may be recounted amongst the venerated names of saints long past.

One of the most influential members of Maria’s retinue isn’t even technically a member of the 51st Commandery. Instead, she hails from the non-militant Order Dialogus, the Order of the Holy Word. Her name is Agnes Aemulator Existens Paternarum and she operates as a fervent and pious spiritual advisor to the Canoness Commander. Her voice can always be heard intoning prayers across the battlefield to embolden her sisters. However, it is no secret that Agnes also operates as an agent of the Ordo Hereticus, providing linguistic and intelligence-gathering support for them, among other duties. It is believed that this close relationship secured Maria Orantes’ bid for leadership, as the tacit support of both the Dialogi and Ordo Hereticus would have been an influential vote of confidence in her favour.

Among Maria’s retinue perhaps the most revered is Felicity Gracelyn, Imagifier of the 51st. In addition to recounting the deeds of martyred sisters among the Order, Felicity holds aloft a sculpture of Saint Joan the Pierced of Armageddon. Joan was a Celestian in the same squad as Petronilla Magdelaine, the first Canoness Commander of the 51st. During the Third War for Armageddon, Saint Joan held off an entire squad of Orks by herself, giving her comrades enough time to secure their retreat before she was hacked to death by the Orks’ blades. However, when this position was retaken days later, she was witnessed once again by her sisters charging into the greenskin lines where she disappeared in a gout of holy fire, slaying many score Orks in the process. Naught was recovered of her but her rosary and a handful of ashes, which were placed at the heart of her simulacrum alongside the bones of other Sisters martyred on Armageddon alongside her. Hearing the deeds of Saint Joan sets the hearts of the 51st aflame and push them to ever greater deeds in order to become worthy of commemoration.

If the Ordo Hereticus have been more hands-on with the 51st in recent times, then Bethel Ingran is that hand made manifest. Ingran first encountered the forces of the 51st during the Rascellan Campaign while she was on the trail of the radical Ordo Xenos Inquisitor Felix Rex. After they helped her to bring the Emperor’s justice to the rogue Inquisitor, Ingran relocated to Balor, obstinately to continue the Ordo Hereticus’ observations of the population, but also to keep the 51st within arm’s reach if needed. After all, Ingran is a resourceful, calculating and cautious Inquisitor and would prefer to keep a proven-successful resource available whenever possible. Ingran is always found flanked by her Crusader bodyguards who safeguard her and ensure that she lives on to accomplish her mission.

Despite being passed up as Canoness Commander, Ludmila Stanbridge holds no ill-will towards Maria Orantes. In spite of this, Ludmila is Maria’s most vocal critic in matters of strategy and it is not unusual for war counsel to be interrupted by Ludmila’s protests. While some may find this to be insubordinate, Maria appreciates the presence of a dissenting voice, especially one who still holds great reverence throughout the ranks of the 51st. As a result of this, Maria has revised battle plans on a handful of occasions after hearing out Ludmila’s concerns. Ludmila, along with her more impetuous twin Sophia, are both honoured Sister Superiors, leading squads of Battle Sisters to war and earning herself even greater respect among her peers.

Amongst the veterans of the 51st, Seira Ignata, Sister Superior of Squad Ember, has the greatest burden upon her. During the Rascellan campaign, early in her career with the 51st, Seira’s squad were wiped out by Orks and, with the help of a Deathwatch Kill Team which were operating in the area, she managed to avenge her fallen sisters. From there, she worked closely with Bethel Ingran to help him bring rogue Inquisitor Felix Rex to justice and has only risen in prominence since. In fact, just as Ludmila was viewed as Angela Impassia’s future successor, Seira is expected to one day take up the mantle from Maria Orantes when she is inevitably martyred. Perhaps this is why Seira has been entrusted with a copy of the Litanies of Faith. While this is likely not the legendary original copy of Sebastian Thor’s preachings, it is still enough to set the hearts of the Sororitas afire, so why risk sullying such belief? As for Seira herself, she leads squads of her sisters into battle with grim determination, eager to strike down all foes of the Emperor, but is particularly eager to drive a stake directly into the heart of any witches.

Whenever the 51st Commandery go on crusade, they are invariably accompanied by masses of Eccelsiarchy priests, missionaries and pilgrims. These hangers-on have proven to be quite useful to the Sororitas, as they spread the word of the Emperor in a more direct and sustained manner than the Order of Our Martyred Lady is capable of accomplishing. In this way, the 51st clears the way so that the masses may receive the word unopposed by any opposing, heretical dogma.

Maria’s fervent leadership has seen the ranks of the Sisters Repentia swell to numbers never before seen in the 51st Commandery’s history. This may be seen as alarming, but the vast majority of the those consigned to the Repentia were put there of their own free will. For them, Maria is an exemplar of the kind of faith they should aspire to and many sisters feel as if they fall short and have shamed themselves. For others, they did not agree with Maria’s leadership when she was appointed but have since come to realize that she was divinely appointed and seek redemption for their weak faith. For some, self-flagellation is not enough of a penance. The Sisters Repentia are always ready to accept these wayward souls and it is considered the honourable first step on the path to redemption to take up the eviscerator in the Emperor’s name.

With influx of Repentia come, inevitably, an influx of Mortifiers – disgraced sisters for whom redemption is no longer an option. All that is left for them is prolonged agony and damnation as they make themselves useful to the Emperor one last time. Most notorious amongst the 51st’s Mortifiers is the Anchorite is known as “The Damned”, a sister who has been locked inside of her armoured sarcophagus for decades. Her suffering has been so prolonged that only the longest-serving veterans of the chapter can remember her sins, but these are so grave that they refuse to speak of them. Younger members of the sisterhood don’t even dare speculate in hushed tones – as they see The Damned launching herself into battle to end her suffering, they fear that their idle curiosity may one day earn them a similar fate.