Sister Wendy Beckett, Hermit and Art Historian

Wendy Beckett (born 25 February 1930), commonly known as just Sister Wendy, is a British hermit and consecrated virgin who is known as an art expert, and who became well known in the 1990s when she presented a series of documentaries for the BBC in which she reflected on the meaning available in various works from throughout the history of art. Beckett was born in the Union of South Africa, then a Dominion in the British Empire, and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, where her father had studied medicine. In 1946, she entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, a congregation of the Religious Sisters dedicated to education. She was sent to England where she completed her novitiate and then studied at St Anne’s College, Oxford where she was awarded a congratulatory first class honours degree in English literature. Outside her academic work, she lived in a convent which maintained the strict code of silence typical in convents prior to the reforms following the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965).

After attending the Notre Dame College of Education (Liverpool) and gaining a teaching diploma in 1954, she returned to South Africa to teach at Notre Dame Convent, a school for girls in Constantia, Cape Town, where she taught English and Latin. Later she moved to Johannesburg where she was appointed the superior of the local convent, while she also lectured at the University of the Witwatersrand. In 1970, health problems forced her to abandon teaching and to return to England.
Arena: Sister Wendy and The Art of the Gospel
At that point, she obtained papal permission to leave her congregation and to become a consecrated virgin. Her former congregation then arranged for her to live under the protection of the Carmelite nuns at their monastery at Quidenham, Norfolk, in the east of England. There she leads a contemplative lifestyle, originally living in a caravan on the grounds, which was later replaced by a mobile home. Besides receiving the Carmelite prioress and a nun who brings her provisions, she dedicates her life solely to solitude and prayer, but allotting two hours of work per day to earn her living. She spent many years translating Medieval Latin scripts before deciding, in 1980, to pursue art, her favourite subject.

Sr Wendy has spent the past 37 years away from the world as a hermit and consecrated virgin, living in a caravan in a copse in the monastery garden of the enclosed Carmelite convent at Quidenham in Norfolk.

see also

A fascinating conversation between Sister Mary and Bill Moyer begins at


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