Nassi Family History

 

Gracia Nasi was born into an ancient and venerable family of Spanish Jews that immigrated to Portugal when Spain expelled its Jews in 1492. Along with the thousands of other Jewish refugees of the Spanish Inquisition, the family was forcibly converted to Christianity by the Portuguese king in 1497. These converted Jews were known by the gentiles as "Marranos" or "New Christians."

Bearing the Christianized name Beatrice de Luna, she enters recorded history in 1528 at 18 years of age in Lisbon. This was when she married Francisco Mendes, whose wealthy Spanish Jewish banking family had also fled the Inquisition and settled in Portugal. Fiercely devoted to Judaism despite her New Christian status, Doña Beatrice Mendes (Doña is a formal title meaning "Mrs.") was, in her private life, called by her Jewish name Gracia Nasi (Gracia is the Spanish equivalent of Hannah, Nasi her family's ancestral name). Doña Beatrice Mendes was widowed in 1536, at which time she went to Antwerp, where her brother-in-law Diogo Mendes had moved the family business years before. At his death in 1542 she inherited control of the Mendes fortune and soon proved to be highly courageous and an excellent businesswoman. As Diogo had done before, she continued using the family's contacts and resources to help Jews escape the Inquisition, and this meant that she and her remaining family were constantly in danger.

Over the next 11 years, she moved across Europe with her daughter, her sister, and her daughter- and son-in-law, traveling from Antwerp through France, Italy, and Turkey. The Inquisition pursued them, local rulers relentlessly crying heresy and attempting to confiscate their fortune. Even her own sister denounced her as a Judaizer in hopes of gaining control of the family's riches. With amazing diplomacy, shrewdness, and business acumen, she managed to escape each assault and continue building the family business.

Doña Beatrice and her family finally reached Turkey in 1553, where they settled near Constantinople. Finally free to openly live as a Jew, she de-Christianized her maiden and married names and was called Gracia Nasi once and for all. Throughout her life, she was known for her generosity and her devotion to Judaism and her fellow Jews. She died in 1569.

 

 

-- Excerpt taken from Jewish Heritage Online Magazine