MENDESIA, GRACIA (called also Beatrice de Luna):
Philanthropist; born about 1510, probably in Portugal; died at Constantinople 1569; member of the Spanish family of Benveniste. As a Maranoshe was married to her coreligionist Francisco Mendes-Nasi. After the early death of her husband, Gracia no longer felt secure in Portugal, where the introduction of the Inquisition had endangered her life and property; and together with her only daughter Reyna and several relatives, she fled in 1536 to Antwerp, where many Maranos were then sojourning and where her brother-in-law Diogo Mendes was manager of the branch of the Lisbon banking-house, which was soon transferred entirely to Antwerp.At Antwerp.
Gracia did not feel at ease in the capital of Flanders, despite the esteem in which she was held; for she could not endure the equivocation, imposed upon all Neo-Christians, of appearing to be a good Catholic, and she longed for a place where she could openly avow her religion. All preparations had been made for departure, when her brother-in-law Diogo, who had married her younger sister, died (c. 1545). Being appointed in his will manager of the business and trustee of the entire property, which the rulers indebted to the house had claimed and confiscated under the cloak of religion, Gracia was obliged to remain for some troublous years in Antwerp.Causes War Between Venice and Turkey.
It was not until 1549 that she was able to go with her daughter, her widowed sister, and the latter's daughter to Venice. Here she met with new difficulties, occasioned by her own sister, for Gracia had been appointed by her brother-in-law guardian of his minor daughter and trustee of her property until her marriage. The younger sister, who was anxious to escape from Gracia's tutelage, betrayed the latter as a secret Jewess to the Venetian authorities, alleging that she intended to flee with her wealth to Turkey and there openly to avow Judaism. At the same time the sister employed an anti-Semitic Frenchman to denounce Gracia to the French government, within whose territory a large part of her wealth was invested. In consequence of these machinations the King of France as well as the Senate of Venice confiscated the property of the Mendes family, and imprisoned Gracia at Venice in order to prevent her flight. Her nephews, especially the energetic Joaõ Miguez (or Joseph Nasi, as he called himself as a Jew), who was also Gracia's son-in-law, took steps to liberate her and to save the fortune. They appealed to Sultan Sulaiman, explaining to him that a widow had the intention of bringing great treasures into the Turkish empire, but that the republic of Venice prevented her from doing so. Moses Hamon, physician to the sultan, also took the matter up, hoping that the heiress of the wealthy Gracia would marry his son. Thereupon a Turkish ambassador was despatched to Venice, with a mandate to the signoria to grant the captive Marano woman free passage to Turkey, together with her property and suite, and Gracia thus became unwittingly the cause of war between Venice and the Porte.
In spite of the sultan's mandate, the negotiations dragged over two years. Meanwhile Gracia was liberated (c. 1550) and immediately went to Ferrara, where she acknowledged herself to be a Jewess. In 1552 she settled with her daughter Reyna at Constantinople and there also openly confessed Judaism. Her sister soon followed her, and although the two had become reconciled, she still had many difficulties with her and with a nephew.Her Charities.
Gracia was one of the noblest of women and was honored like a princess. She spent her large fortune in relieving her suffering coreligionists. She made great sacrifices to prevent the introduction of the Inquisition into Portugal, and was the guardian angel of the Maranos. The poet Samuel Usque, who dedicated to her his Portuguese work, "Consolaçam as Tribulaçoes de Ysrael," praises her as "the heart of her people." She relieved the impoverished Maranos in Flanders and other countries, protected them, and "gathered them together in obedience to the prescriptions of their ancient faith"; and in the words of Immanuel Aboab, "Whosoever should undertake to tell of the noble deeds and rare virtues of Donna Gracia would have to write entire books" ("Nomologia," p. 304). Gracia appealed to the sultan against the cruelties of the fanatical Pope Paul IV., who condemned many Portuguese Maranos to the stake, and contemporary rabbis praise the piety, philanthropy, and nobility of soul with which she founded synagogues and aided Jewish scholars. A synagogue which she built at Constantinople still bears her name.
Gracia betrothed her niece, Gracia Mendesia II., to her nephew Samuel Nasi; the portrait of this Gracia at the age of eighteen was engraved by Giovanni Paolo Poggini of Ferrara on a medal which is now preserved in the Cabinet of Medals, Paris.
- Joseph Caro, Abḳat Rokel, Responsum No. 80;
- Joseph ha-Kohen, 'Emeḳ ha-Baka, p. 116;
- Joseph ibn Leb, Responsa, i. 63b, ii. 26a;
- M. A. Levy, D. Joseph Nasi, Herzog von Naxos, Breslau, 1859;
- Grätz, Gesch. ix. 366 et seq.;
- idem, in Wiener Jahrbuch, 1857, pp. 7 et seq.;
- Kayserling, Gesch. der Juden in Portugal, p. 211;
- idem, Die Jüdischen Frauen, pp. 81 et seq., 345 et seq.;
- see also Nasi, Joseph.