Art historian Sister Wendy Beckett dies aged 88

Sister Wendy Beckett, the British nun who came out of seclusion to become a popular television art historian has died aged 88.

Her long career saw her work as a teacher in South Africa, before she spent years in solitude living in a caravan on the grounds of a monastery, she found a unexpected career change when she became a much loved TV presenter.

Sister Wendy also voiced support for gay and lesbian couples despite the church’s strong opposition to allowing same-sex couples to marry and create families.

Sister Wendy was born in South Africa in 1930, but raised in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1946 at the age of sixteen she entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, a Roman Catholic convent. After completing her novitiate in England she enrolled at Oxford University to study English Literature.

She later completed a teaching diploma in Liverpool before being sent to South Africa to teach English at a girls school in Cape Town. She later became the superior of a convent in Johannesburg and also lectured at a university.

In 1970 she returned to England and received permission to leave the convent and live alone in solitude. She lived in a caravan on the grounds on a monastery in Norfolk. She lived her life in solitude in prayer and studying, except for two hours a day which she allowed herself to work to earn a living.

In the 1980’s she began studying art and wrote several books. In the early 1990’s a television film crew overheard her speaking about art at a gallery and asked to film her. Soon she had her own series of television programs where she appeared in front of paintings and spoke about their meaning and history.

Her television appearances were completely unscripted, with crew members referring to her as ‘one take Wendy’, she often dropped clever and witty one-liners about the artists into her commentary. With a prominent speech impediment, Sister Wendy had difficulty pronouncing r’s, she became a memorable figure on British television.

Her television programs included Sister Wendy’s Odyssey, Sister Wendy’s Grand Tour and Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting.

In 2007 Sister Wendy was asked by The Huffington Post about her support for same-sex couples, despite the church’s opposition. She replied that while she loved the church and remained loyal, she believed in time things would change.

“I believe in loyalty. We should respect our church, but never believe that the church has the last word. The church is saying ‘this’, but I believe that sooner or later ‘this’ will change. ‘This’ is not the mind of our Lord. God is all love. It’s a delicate balancing thing.

“The Church has changed its position over the years, and because the spirit is with the Church, in the end the Church will always get it right. But in the end. The spirit of the Church is the meaning of love, which hasn’t yet, perhaps, been fully understood.” Sister Wendy said.

Sister Wendy passed away at the monastery in Norfolk that had been her home for over five decades. She was 88 years old.

OIP Staff