Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Thursday 05 August |
The Commemoration of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

Sister Wendy Beckett, BBC art historian, dies at 88

SISTER WENDY BECKETT

Jo-Anne Rowney | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Zelda Caldwell - published on 12/26/18

The Carmelite nun became an unlikely TV star in the 90s

Sister Wendy Beckett, a Catholic nun who left the cloistered life of a monastery in England to become the host of a popular television show on art history, died today at the age of 88.

The host of three BBC television series on art history, which the New York Times called “the most successful BBC arts programs since ‘Civilisation,’”Sister Wendy was also the author of 15 books on art and religion. She had received permission to study art in the 1980s and wrote her first book in order to earn some money for her convent.

Her unlikely celebrity status came about, when at the age of 61, while living as a hermit in a trailer on the grounds of the Carmelite Monastery in East Anglia, the Oxford-educated nun was asked to host a documentary about Britain’s National Gallery.

The show was a hit, reports the New York Times, and was soon followed by the six-part “Sister Wendy’s Odyssey,” which covered museums across England and Scotland, and drew more than 35 million viewers.

Sister Wendy went on to host a 10-part BBC series in 1994, “Sister Wendy’s Grand Tour,” in which she introduced viewers to the treasures of the great museums of Europe. In 1996, “Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting,” took her through Europe, the Middle East and the United States.

BBC director of arts Jonty Claypole recalled that Sister Wendy had “a unique presentation style, a deep knowledge of and passion for the arts,” reported the BBC.

“She was a hugely popular BBC presenter and will be fondly remembered by us all,” he added.

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa on February 25, 1930, Sister Wendy joined the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur at age 16. She studied literature at Oxford University while living in a convent and observing a code of silence for the four years she studied in England. She graduated with high honors as the recipient of a Congratulatory First Class degree in English literature.

After returning to South Africa, she taught for 15 years at a convent and later was a lecturer at Johannesburg’s University of Witwaterstrand. In 1970 she returned to England to pursue a life of solitude and prayer after being diagnosed with epilepsy.

Here is an episode of “Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting,” in which she discusses the sacred art of the Italian painter Giotto.

Tags:
ArtVocations
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
Saint Mary of the Angels
Bret Thoman, OFS
All your sins will be forgiven if you go to a Franciscan church o...
2
Philip Kosloski
Most priests can’t absolve these sins
3
Ignacio María Doñoro
Francisco Veneto
The military chaplain who pretended to be a criminal to rescue a ...
4
CARLO ACUTIS
Violeta Tejera
Carlo Acutis’ first stained glass window in jeans and sneak...
5
Zelda Caldwell
World-record winning gymnast Simone Biles leans on her Catholic f...
6
AMERICA'S GOT TALENT
Cerith Gardiner
Nightbirde’s beautiful message as she drops out of TV show
7
Gianmarco Tamberi AND Mutaz Essa Barshim
Cerith Gardiner
This Olympic event captures the true meaning of the Games
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.