Sunday, February 26, 2023

The Church of the Red Athenæum: Aseneth Levedescu, (3rd) Cardinal

And I feel so proud when the reckoning arrives.

With the blog recently turning 10 years old, it is hard not to reflect back on what we have done in that time. One of our favorite creations is the Church of the Red Athenæum. Designed for Iron Sleet’s Pilgrym event, the Church is a radical splinter of the Imperial Cult that believes suffering is the highest form of veneration of the God-Emperor. In 2021 we began to revisit the Church, creating a host of new models, including a Gunfighter, a heavy weapons specialist, a Halfling, and a new Bibliognost of the Church of the Red Athenæum. In 2023, we hope to continue developing and expanding the Red Church. And while we created a host of different characters from the Church, one of the most iconic is the current Cardinal, Aseneth Levedescu, and her mobile throne. We wanted to celebrate the character and showcase her again on the blog, seven years after her initial creation. To do this, we knew we could take better photos of the model and share the lore we wrote pertaining to her, but we wanted to do something more special. For this purpose, we commissioned the amazingly talented and visionary Nicky Grillet to illustrate and paint Aseneth!

Nicky did an astounding job realizing the character of Aseneth Levedescu, capturing all of the eclectic details from the model, including the burning candles and fixed bones. She also added other little details, like a servo skull carrying the symbol of the Church: an hourglass.

A close-up of Aseneth Levedescu's worn and tortured face.

A helpful servo skull carrying an hourglass.

Below are some newer photos of the original model we created in 2016, along with the lore we wrote about her:

The Church of the Red Athenæum:

The Imperial Creed has spawned all manner of eccentric cults across the Imperium, and although the Ecclesiarchy permits some level of deviance from established practices, the line between heresy and acceptance is often blurred. The Church of the Red Athenæum is one such oddity, which is often persecuted for their extreme beliefs, stemming from the idea that salvation can only be obtained by sustaining an existence fashioned after the Emperor’s suffering. Casting out their worldly possessions and desires, its followers are obsessed with the physical sacrifice and suffering of the Emperor, and view the wounds inflicted to Him in his final battle as holy. To venerate the God-Emperor, and join the cult, each member ritually mutilates themselves to emulate one of His holy wounds. In doing so, they are endeavouring to replicate and feel His pain. Ironically, since the exact details of this iconic battle were never shared with the general population, what wounds they inflict in the Emperor’s name are based solely on myth and rumor. However, there are a few common selections: the removal of the left eye, removal of the larynx, or cutting the tendons in the wrists or removal of the hands. Some even go so far as having their spines severed, or entire limbs removed. The higher ranking members of the Church tend to have multiple wounds, in an effort to get closer to His existence. This butchering is not the radical element that concerns the Ecclesiarchy, however, it is their belief that the Golden Throne is not a benefit to Humanity, but a prison trapping the Emperor’s soul on Terra and preventing Him from implementing His Divine Will. The Horus Heresy was a period of great suffering for the Emperor, but it was only the beginning of this pain. Since being entombed in the Throne, His entire existence has been one of suffering. He has watched His empire crumble into a pale shadow of its former glory, with the Imperial Truth being replaced with the Imperial Creed. He is enslaved by the corrupt High Lords of Terra, tethered to a damaged relic from the Dark Age of Technology, with the sole purpose of keeping the Astronomicon lit. It is not His Will that is being promulgated, but that of an amoral Senate of fools. The Church believes that in order for Mankind to achieve its next stage of evolution, the Emperor must be free to lead His people both spiritually and physically, something that is impossible when He is chained to the Golden Throne.

Aseneth Levedescu, (3rd) Cardinal of the Church of the Red Athenæum

Aseneth was born (840.M41) into the noble Levedescu family, a long line of renowned rejuvent chirurgeons of the Officio Medicae. A haughty and vain lineage, House Levedescu was obsessed with physical beauty, pursuing it through politicking, eugenic breeding, and genetic and synthetic fleshcraft. Much to the dismay of her parents, Aseneth was born with intersex traits, exhibiting sexual anatomy not typically associated with a female. Horrified that such an “aberration” could come from their cultivated gene pool, they used hormonal therapy and their surgical expertise to “correct” what they deemed a chance deviation. This fact was not one that was widely known, but such was their hubris that when Aseneth was old enough to understand, her parents made it known to her. While they had hoped this knowledge would be a source of inspiration for her, showing her the power of her family’s craft, it only served to spark questions and sow doubt in her mind. If she had been given the opportunity, would she have given consent for the surgical procedures that “normalized” her? And why were they limiting their services to the nobility of Terra, when there were so many others that could be touched by their art, in particular the ever growing population of mutants in the underhives. She was told that their talents would be wasted on such abominations: Suffer not the Unclean to live, as the saying goes. With these thoughts and uncertainties welling in her mind, she was drawn inexhaustibly towards her lineages’ profession. She followed her parents’ wishes and became a chirurgeon trained under the auspices of the Officio Medicae.

With the influence and wealth of House Levedescu, she began her own surgical clinic, which was centered around reconstructive and rejuvent surgery, something she had been groomed for her entire life. As her influence grew, she began to take her craft to the underhives in secret, performing corrective, phenotypic surgery on mutants. Aseneth harboured a lingering sense of unease about the corrective surgery performed on her as a child, one that was further magnified by her work with the underhive mutants, but she felt it was the only way to help them to be accepted into Imperial society. This practice went on for many years, with her gaining much renown, albeit hidden from traditional medical circles, with some of her patients even incorporating themselves into the wider Imperium. But it did not last.

In time, word of her operation reached the wrong ears, and the ever-watchful Ordo Hereticus turned its gaze upon her. Subtlety is not a virtue often employed by the Ordos, and within days, her clinic was stormed by a team of Adepta Sororitas. Anyone who protested was executed, and any of her known patients, including those who had “infiltrated” into society, were rooted out and eliminated with extreme prejudice. Aseneth's medical license was revoked, and she was put on a public trial and found guilty of “Abetting and conspiring with heretics and performing unsanctioned fleshcraft.” House Levedescu’s clout and influence within the Adeptus Terra spared her life, but her medical and political career was over, and she was cast as the black sheep of the Levedescu family.

While such an experience would have crushed most individuals, it did the opposite for Aseneth. Instead of depleting her self-worth and shattering her illusion of control, the event gave her mental clarity; feelings and intuitions that she had subconsciously held finally congealed into steadfast beliefs. “Normalizing” people was wrong; they had never needed fixing. The Imperium’s eugenic cleansing, under the guise of rooting out heresy, was nothing more than a yoke that was put in place by the High Lords of Terra, one based on superstition and fear. The Imperium was a corrupt regime desperately trying to maintain an amoral status quo, one that was holding humanity’s future hostage. She became convinced that such a state was not what the God-Emperor, silent on his hallowed Throne, would have espoused.

While her family could offer her asylum, she deemed it a hollow existence, living on coattails hidden from the wider world. Instead, she took matters into her own hands, disappearing into the underhives, a fact that House Levedescu accepted with little concern. During her years performing “corrective” surgery, Aseneth had heard word of an eccentric cult dedicated to the God-Emperor of Mankind, the Church of the Red Athenæum. She was drawn to this church for two reasons, the first being its renouncement of the Ecclesiarchy as a corrupt organization, and the second being its curious practice of replicating the Emperor’s wounds as a form of reverence. In acts of ritual self-mutilation, its members would mimic the wounds inflicted to their Savior by the Arch-Heretic, in an attempt to become closer to Him. These acts of self-mutilation held a strange fascination for Aseneth, as she had suffered her own form of self-mutilation at birth, but not of her own volition. The allure of self-mutilation was one of voluntary ugliness: while the beauty so prized by House Levedescu was a product of birth, by either nature or privilege, choosing ugliness was brutally egalitarian. Furthermore, the Church’s focus on the Emperor's wounds resonated with her at a more personal level; just as the Emperor viewed the death of His sons as a harbinger of humanity's inevitable decay, she saw her involuntary surgery as the machinations of a corrupt regime intent on denying personal liberties and maintaining draconian control of the Imperium as a whole.

And with Remus Ormond, second Cardinal of the Church of the Red Athenæum, to bear witness, Aseneth inflicted her first wound in the Emperor’s name, cleaving off her left hand, and joined the Church (883.M41). This was to be the first of many wounds she administered to herself, such was her fervor in her new faith. Her vast medical knowledge was an unexpected, but welcome, boon to the ever expanding church. Under her auspice, the Church was able to rapidly improve their medical and surgical techniques, dramatically reducing infection and mortality as a result of unsanitary ritual practices.

With each passing year, Aseneth grew more and more influential within the Church. As the chief medical officer and surgeon within the Church, she was intimately aware of its inner workings, and was acquainted with all of its members. She was loved as much for her devotion to the Faith, as for her skill with a scalpel. Few matched her passion for living a life committed to His suffering, yet none matched her scholarly fascination with religious texts. Often she would spend hours deep within the dusty archives of the Red Basilica, studying treatises from the late Dorian Chandrakesan’s collection, like the Spheres of Longing, and even some fragmented writings of the Seer of Corrinto. This piety, and her insatiable yearning for knowledge, led her to becoming one of Cardinal Remus Ormond’s most trusted advisors.

Therefore, when Ormond became fixated on “unlocking” his mind as an attempt to replicate a fraction of the Emperor’s psychic trauma, she was one of his first consultants. Although not trained in the finer points of neurology, she had more insight than most on the matter, and urged caution. The biological facts underpinning psychic affinity were not well understood, and had largely stagnated in the culture of superstition that the Imperium was built upon. Even basic neurobiology had not moved much beyond rudimentary neurografts for bionics and mind-impulse units since the coming of the Old Night. When Ormond would not be persuaded from his course, she recommended various luminaries and texts he might consult. But when these turned up fruitless, he called upon less savory advice, calling upon mystics, holistic healers, and esoteric techno-surgeons. Eventually he stumbled upon a neurosurgical procedure from a decaying treatise pulled from the archives of a faded scholam. Ormond was convinced the operation, his Illumination, would unlock the latent psychic potential within his mind. Although Aseneth expressed her concerns, she would not stand in the way of someone’s devotion to Him, and knew the Emperor’s light would guide His followers. At the height of the Red Hour, he had the operation performed.

Only the Emperor, hallowed be His name, and Ormond himself know of the success or failure of the Illumination, for, upon its completion, Ormond was unresponsive, and the room rimmed with ice. His body was entombed inside a life-sustaining casket, and sealed within the bowels of the Red Basilica, alongside his predecessor, the venerable Dorian Chandrakesan. The period of leaderlessness was short lived, as Aseneth Levedescu was elected unanimously to fill Ormond’s role as spiritual leader of the congregation. And thus began a new era for the Church of the Red Athenæum, one eschewing fatalism and demanding an active role in realizing an Imperium in the Emperor’s Vision.

That artwork framed!

- Eric, Adam, and Greg Wier


  1. Another great post. I love the her back story, and the little creative details such as the Seer of Corrinto. It really paints a full picture of the models background!

    1. I am glad you like it! It was fun to try to incorporate a variety of details to pin her to the 40k lore.

  2. That painting is so cool! We create these characters with plastic and/or words, but seeing them in pictures makes them seem another kind of real.

    1. Agreed! It really cool to see her in this new lens!

  3. The artwork is fantastic (I'd love to commission something one day!) and I'm looking forward to seeing this project growing again :)