Dona Gracia (Nasi) (1510-1568)

As a 'Maranna', Dona Gracia (Nasi) was married to Francisco Mendes of the House of Nasi. Her husband ran a large trading enterprise. He died in 1535, leaving her a widow at twenty-five. The Inquisition, an increasingly mortal threat, forced her to leave her homeland and flee with her children to Antwerp. Later, from 1549 to 1553, she lived in Ferrara where the tolerant Duke Ercole d'Este allowed her to practice her true religion. Nevertheless, she was still persecuted in Italy because of her Jewish faith. It was only in Constantinople that she found the personal freedom she had sought throughout her life. In the tradition of her religion she devoted herself to good works. She built houses of prayer and teaching and supported needy fellow Jews. She died in 1568, the 'heart of her people'.