Sister Wendy Beckett, Art Historian and Unlikely TV Star, Dies at 88

The Roman Catholic nun hosted unscripted BBC shows from galleries around the world

Last Updated: December 27, 2018 @ 8:22 AM

Sister Wendy Beckett, a Roman Catholic nun and art historian who became a BBC and PBS television sensation, has died. She was 88.

The unlikely TV host with the oversize eyeglasses and an enthusiastic passion for artwork (including nudes) passed away Wednesday in the village of East Harling, England.

Her death was confirmed by the Carmelite Monastery in Quidenham, where she had lived in a trailer for decades, though not as a member of the Carmelite order, the New York Times reported.

Born in South Africa, Sister Wendy moved to Scotland as a child with her family and joined a convent when she was 16. In 1950, she went to Oxford University and lodged in a convent while studying English literature. Following 16 years teaching back in South Africa, Sister Wendy was granted permission by the Vatican to pursue a life of solitude and prayer due to her ailing health, the BBC reported.

During her period of hermit-like living, she wrote a book titled “Contemporary Women Artists” to raise money for her convent. It garnered great praise and prompted the BBC to invite her to present a television documentary on the National Gallery in London in 1991.

Without the aid of a script or auto-cue and dressed in a nun’s habit, Sister Wendy went on to share her admiration and love of artwork around the world, from Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” in the Sistine Chapel to Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt and Monet.

During the ’90s, Sister Wendy became a celebrity adored on both sides of the Atlantic, had two hit TV series, wrote 15 books, met with the prime minister and the Pope — all while still living a simple life in a trailer.

“Nothing is more humiliating than being on television. You make such a fool of yourself,” she told the New York Times in 1997.

Her shows “Sister Wendy’s Odyssey” and “Sister Wendy’s Grand Tour” often attracted 25 percent of the viewing audience in the U.K.

BBC director of arts Jonty Claypole paid tribute to Sister Wendy on Wednesday, praising her “unique presentation style, a deep knowledge of and passion for the arts.”

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