03 January 2019, The Tablet

Sister Wendy Beckett

by Rachel Gregory

Sister Wendy Beckett

Others will write of Sister Wendy Beckett, who found fame in the 1990s with her popular TV documentaries, as an art critic and public figure. This is a tribute to a woman for whom God was her very life.

Born in South Africa, Sr Wendy joined the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, a teaching order, in 1947 at the age of 16. After studying at Oxford University, she returned to South Africa in 1954 to teach but, after 15 years, she was forced to give up the classroom after having epileptic seizures. Her Superior gave permission for her to pursue a life of solitude and prayer, and she came to live in a small caravan in the grounds of the Carmelite monastery at Quidenham in Norfolk in 1970.

As prioress of the monastery, I came to know her well. Almost immediately I perceived the presence of a rare and profound spirituality and was struck with awe before her manifest love for God and wisdom.

These were beyond anything I had hitherto encountered. This woman really knew God and loved him with an all-absorbing passion. She opened up for me a mysterious, unimaginable dimension. Nearly 50 years of close association never diminished my veneration. Lovingly, she took me into her confidence, supporting me in my anxieties and struggles, chuckled with me over human idiosyncrasies, to the point of helpless laughter. Vulnerable and sensitive, she too could weep and need support and reassurance.

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