Sister Wendy Beckett, a Roman Catholic nun who interrupted a cloistered life of prayer in England in 1991 and soared to international stardom with lyrical BBC documentaries that made her one of the most improbable art critics in television history, died on Wednesday in the village of East Harling, England. She was 88.
Her death was confirmed by the Carmelite Monastery in Quidenham, England.
Bending backward in her black habit in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, gazing up through large eyeglasses at Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam,” Sister Wendy spoke with a storyteller’s wonder at the solemn, sensuous moment on the ceiling as two fingertips near the touch that begat the creation of life.
“Adam’s sprawled there in his naked male glory, but he’s not alive,” she told viewers in 1996. “All he can do is lift up a flaccid finger, and out of the clouds whirls down the God of Power. In his great flying cloak there’s a world. Whether that’s Eve or not, there’s a human face there looking straight at Adam with the eyes daring him to respond to the challenge. And God’s finger touches that of Man.”
It was a magical moment of television, too. Sister Wendy was small and stooped, with a plain face, buck teeth and a slight speech impediment that rendered R’s as W’s. But her insightful, unscripted commentaries — a blend of history, criticism and observations on Leonardo da Vinci, van Gogh, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Monet and other Western masters — connected emotionally with millions in Britain and America.
By 1997, as she marked 50 years as a nun,