Sister Wendy, nun and television art critic, dies aged 88

Sister Wendy Beckett, the nun and art critic who found fame in the 1990s with her popular TV documentaries on art history, has died aged 88.

Sister Wendy, born in South Africa in 1930, died on 26 December at the Carmelite Monastery at Quidenham in Norfolk. 

Sr Wendy joined a teaching order, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, in 1947 at the age 16. Recognising her intelligence, the order sent Sr Wendy to Oxford University in 1950, where she was awarded a Congratulatory First Class degree in English literature.

Sister Wendy

She returned to South Africa in 1954 to teach but, after 15 years, she was forced to give up the classroom after having epileptic seizures. in 1970, the Vatican gave permission for her to pursue a life of solitude and prayer.

Her order agreed to her living under the protection of the Carmelites in Norfolk as a hermit, devoting herself to prayer.

In her caravan in the grounds of the Carmel, Sr Wendy began to study art history, and in 1988 she published her first book, “Contemporary Women Artists”, to raise money for the convent.

She also began writing a weekly art column for the Catholic Herald.

In 1991, the BBC commissioned her to present a television documentary on the National Gallery in London.

Sr Wendy, who presented the programme unscripted dressed in a traditional black and white habit that she had designed herself, proved hugely popular.

Further programmes followed including “Odyssey”, “Sister Wendy’s Grand Tour” and “Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting”.

Her popularity was so great that she even had a musical written about her. “Postcards from God: The Sister Wendy Musical”, created by the originators of “Jerry Springer: The Opera”, ran briefly in the West End.

Sr Wendy presented her final series in 2001, after which she declined offers of TV work.

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