(1510 - 1569)
Gracia Mendes was born in Portugal
in 1510. Her Christian name was Beatrice de Luna. She was a secret
Jew. In 1528 she married Francisco Mendes, also a secret Jew. He and
his brother had built up a fortune by starting with precious stones
and branching out into banking. He died, and Beatrice joined her
brother-in-law in Flanders.
She began helping secret Jews who
were desperately fleeing from the Portuguese Inquisition. In 1543 her
brother-in-law died, and Beatrice fled Flanders and went to Venice.
Her sister denounced her as a Judaizer, but Beatrice escaped the
clutches of the Inquisition.
She settled in Ferrara, declared
herself a Jew, and took on her name Gracia Nasi. She continued to
help a huge number of secret Jews. She became the patroness of
scholars. In 1558 she arranged with the Turkish sultan to buy the
city of Tiberias in Israel with
the intention of making it an independent Jewish city-state with her
son-in-law the head. The plan almost succeeded. Work began on
renovating Tiberias, but, because of conflicts between Constantinople
and Italy, the final deal fell
to Jewish Heritage