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Nun and art critic Sister Wendy Beckett dies aged 88

Sister Wendy Beckett had a regular column in the Catholic Herald

She achieved international fame presenting TV documentaries on art history

Sister Wendy Beckett, a nun who became a TV presenter, journalist and art critic has died at the age of 88.

Sister Wendy spent much of her life as a contemplative nun, but achieved international fame in the 1990s when she presented a series of documentaries on art history for the BBC. She became renowned for presenting her shows without a script and dressed in her traditional black habit.

She was born in South Africa in 1930 and moved to Scotland as a child. At the age of 16 she joined the Sisters of Notre Dame, a congregation of religious sisters dedicated to education.

After completing her noviciate, she studied at St Anne’s College, Oxford, where she was awarded a congratulatory first class honours degree in English Literature.

JRR Tolkein tried to persuade her to stay on at Oxford as an academic, but she instead moved to Liverpool and then back to South Africa.

After spending 15 years as a teacher in South Africa, she was forced to return to England after a spate of ill health, settling in a caravan on the grounds of the Carmelite monastery in Quidenham, Norfolk.

Sister Wendy began studying art in the 1980s, publishing her first book, Contemporary Women Artists, in 1988. Shortly afterwards, she began writing a weekly art column for the Catholic Herald.

After the success of her written work, the BBC commissioned her to present a documentary on the National Gallery in London. This was followed by more documentaries on art history, attracting nearly four million viewers in the UK alone.

Her series Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting was shown in the US, winning critical acclaim and a new market for her books. Her final series appeared in 2001, after which she declined all further offers of television work.

Last year, she marked her 70th anniversary as a nun by donating £3,000 to Aid to the Church in Need.