Sr. Wendy Beckett, the contemplative who became an unlikely television celebrity after hosting art programs on BBC and American public television throughout the 1990s, died Dec. 26 at a care facility near the Carmelite monastery in Quidenham, England, where she lived in a trailer hermitage. She was 88.
Beckett was born in South Africa, but soon moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, with her family so her father could study medicine. She entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, a teaching community, when she was 16.
She told The Guardian that she never liked her given name, thinking that it was meant for a small-minded, pretty woman. Her mother, she said, "was probably rather taken aback when she got this lump of a child who did nothing but read." Beckett's self-deprecating humor was part of her television appeal, during which she appeared, dressed in full habit, and spontaneously commented on great and not-so-great artworks, both sacred and secular.
Her views were often clear yet understated. About some contemporary artists whose work she found lacking, she said, "I am prepared to marvel at their inexplicable enthusiasm." She was known to offer relationship advice to her film crew and asked her monastery colleagues to pray for them to find faithful husbands. When visiting famous museums, she would often be greeted by strangers who said that her television programs caused them to appreciate art.