Born, in Portugal in the early 16th century, in the noble and very wealthy Benveniste family, which fled Spain at the beginning of the Inquisition.
She married Francisco Mendez-Nassi, a banker, whose fortune was even greater than hers.
Doña Gracia or ” Beatriz Luna, ” according to the name adopted as alleged Catholic, was of a great beauty, rich and cultivated.
On the death of her husband, she decided to leave Portugal and took her only child with her, along with some other family members. Life was becoming unbearable for the ”Marranos” as the Inquisition began to dwell beyond Spain and Portugal.
The Marranos were Jews who, like Doña Gracia, secretly remained loyal to the faith of their fathers, while claiming an apparent adherence to the Catholic Church. They suffered deep oppression.
She went to Antwerp, where her brother in law ran the Bank for the Mendez-Nassi family and settled there.
But even there the Inquisition was soon to join them.
After the death of her brother in law in 1549, she left Antwerp with her daughter, sister and widowed niece to Venice, She took away as many goods as she could and was hoping to find a far away land which would allow her to live her Judaism in peace.
She decided to join her nephew in Constantinople, the famous Don Joseph Nasi who became Minister of the Sultan in Turkey, one of the most influential man in Europe.
But the King of France, persuaded the government of Venice to prevent them from embarking and put that Noble Dame and her family in prison and confiscate all their properties.
Don Joseph Nasi using his influence with the Sultan managed a Master coup : for some time the Sultan policy was disturbed by the competing merchants of Venice.
Therefore the Sultan sent an emissary with a query asking firmly the release of Dona Gracia and to restore her fortune.
It took two years for the Sultan to get satisfaction.
Doña Gracia eventually settled in Constantinople in 1552 and became the center of world aid to persecuted Jews and Marranos. She spent her fortune to this cause.
Unfortunately, due to political changes, the situation of the Jews in Turkey deteriorated and became as dramatic as in Europe. Much of the wealth of Mendez-Nassi was confiscated.
The dream of Doña Gracia was to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine!
That any persecuted Marrano Jews would have a peace of land where they could finally live and transmit their ancestors traditions to their children