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Financier, philanthropist, and patron of Jewish learning. She was born to a family of Marranos, or secret Jews, in Portugal and named Beatrice de Luna. She was only 25 when her husband, the banker Francisco Mendes of Lisbon, died. She became the head of the Mendes banking house with its widespread business interests, including an important branch in Antwerp.

When life for Marranos in Portugal became dangerous because of the Inquisition, she gathered up her family, including her daughter and her nephew Joao Miguez, and left for Antwerp, sailing in her own ship.

In Antwerp she joined her brother-in-law Diego Mendes in managing their business. The family had a high social position. Donna Gracia’s responsibilities were great, and after the death of Diego in 1545, they became even greater. Her beautiful daughter Reyna was sought in marriage by many young nobles, and her firm refusals aroused justified suspicions that the Mendes family were secret Judaizers who would not intermarry with Christians. Before the authorities could act, Donna Gracia fled with her family to Venice, a way station to Turkey where they could practice Judaism openly. In Venice she was denounced to the authorities, who imprisoned her and confiscated her fortune. The king of France, in debt to the Mendes Bank, used his piety as a pretext for not paying his debt.

Her nephew Joao Miguez managed to obtain the help of the Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, and Donna Gracia was released. She was permitted to settle in Ferrara, a haven for Jews under the rule of the Dukes d’Este. Here Donna Gracia shed the disguise of Christianity and became Hannah Nasi, a devoted Jewess. In Ferrara she brought together a conference of Marrano notables to organize their flight to freedom, using her wealth to help finance this movement. She was interested in Jewish learning and became a patroness of Jewish scholars. When Abraham Usque of Ferrara published the first translation of the Bible into Spanish, a special edition was dedicated to Gracia. This edition became the Bible from which generations of Marranos relearned their Judaism. Finally, in 1552, the Nasi family was permitted to leave for Turkey. They settled in Constantinople where Gracia built her home, the Belvedere. She also built a synagogue and set up a Hebrew printing press in her home. The Belvedere became a haven for Jewish scholars, a respite continued by her daughter Reyna after Gracia’s death.

Shortly after the family settled in Constantinople, Reyna married her cousin Joao Miguez, who had taken the name Joseph Nasi when the family returned to Judaism. After her husband’s death Reyna continued to house the printing press which issued many important Hebrew books.

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