Welcome to the new online home for fans and followers of Doña Gracia Nasi, the remarkable woman who helped thousands escape the horrors of the 16th-century Inquisitions. http://donagraciaworldwide.com
The Woman, the Story, the Movement
If a true leader is someone with an inborn love of power, a capacity to inspire others, and a knack for exploiting the weaknesses in one’s adversaries, then Doña Gracia Nasi had them all. A powerful woman leader in the turbulent 16th century, she shared the world stage with Catherine de Medici of France and Elizabeth of England. Unlike her counterparts, however, Doña Gracia vanished into the cluttered attic of history – until recently.
In the late 20th century, when women began entering the corridors of political and economic power in substantial numbers, they slowly started to rediscover Doña Gracia. She has become a cult figure, the topic of multiple lecture series, and the subject of the suspense-filled 2002 book The Woman who Defied Kings, by Andrée Aelion Brooks. Her amazing life story is currently in the planning stages for a movie project. So who, exactly, was this remarkable woman?
Beatrice Mendes, later known as Doña Gracia Nasi, was the widow of the Lisbon banker Francisco Mendes. Francisco had been a powerful confidante of Portugal’s King John III, regularly supplying the crown with indispensable loans. The banker’s death catapulted his spirited, strong-willed young widow to the helm of one of the foremost banking houses of Renaissance Europe – where she spent most of her fortune on a humanitarian mission that would engross her more than the profitable royal loans, spice monopolies, syndications, and currency arbitrage favored by her husband.
That mission was as the self-appointed protector of the chief targets of Inquisition, which was just then beginning its years of terror, torture, and burning. Doña Gracia Nasi is credited with saving thousands of lives of Spanish and Portuguese conversos – Jews who, like her own family, had earlier been forcibly converted to Catholicism. These converts were now being subjected to ethnic cleansing by Inquisition officials, on the charge that they had relapsed into Jewish practice. The courageous campaign by Doña Gracia helped conversos escape their tormentors and start new lives beyond the reach of the Inquisition, in the Ottoman Empire.
Her wealth and international business power provided the conversos with more than just escape, but also with a sense of pride and heritage. She became so furious upon learning that Inquisition officials had burned 23 of her people in the Italian port of Ancona that she organized a shipping boycott that brought the city to its knees. She supported the building of synagogues and yeshivas in their new lands that enabled them to reconnect with their ancestral faith. And in her final years, she made one of the earliest organized attempts to re-settle some of the refugees on sacred soil, 400 years before the founding of modern state of Israel.
In business, she was not simply the titular head of any enterprise – she ran it. In her personal life, she stood face to face with Queen Marie, Regent of the Low Countries and sister of Charles V, the powerful Holy Roman Emperor, and say she would rather see her only daughter “drown” than marry the disreputable Catholic nobleman the monarchs had commanded the girl to wed. As a patron of the arts, she reflected the best of Renaissance culture by supporting the creative works of her own people.
The sum of her days – with their equal proportion of achievement and power, loneliness and personal agonies – resonate with us today. The story of Doña Gracia may have been untold for centuries, but it is an astounding tale of courage and dogged persistence in the face of horrendous odds.
Agradecemos a Rachel Amado Bortnick por acercarnos esta imformación