After Doña Beatrice has been living in Venice several years, the city's Marranos are excluded from the city's commerce and then expelled. As the Venetian government attempts to freeze her assets and put her under house arrest, Beatrice and her daughter safely relocate to Ferrara, from where they must watch the plight of their fellow Marranos in Venice. In Ferrara, they are finally allowed to live as Jews.

This was the first time that their Jewish names were officially used. They preferred to be called, not by their husbands' name of Benveniste, but by the ancestral appellation of Nasi; and it is as Doña Gracia Nasi that our principal character was henceforth known.[*] A new chapter now opened in her life. She was no longer a Marrano, but a proud, eager, almost chauvenistic Jewess.

It was at this time that Gracia Nasi became known as a patroness of of letters. Just after her arrival (the two phenomena are surely not unconnected) Ferrara began a new tradition in Jewish literature, by first producing works in the vernacular, for the benefit of recently-arrived Marranos who were ignorant of Hebrew.

The most important of them all was a translation of the Hebrew Bible ("The Ferrara Bible," it is generally called) produced in collaboration with a certain Abraham Usque or Duarte Pinel, probably at Doña Gracia's expense. It was published in two editions, one for Jews and one for Christians. The [one] intended for the Jews is dedicated to the noble-hearted Jewess, Doña Gracia 'Naci.'

Later in the same year another work appeared at Ferrara under similar auspices, one of the most notable in the record of vernacular Jewish literature. This was the famous Consolaçam às Tribulaçoens de Israel, or Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel, by Samuel Usque. It is a prose-poem in Portuguese which passes in review the whole of Israel's history. This work also appeared under Doña Gracia's auspices and was dedicated to her in moving terms.

Meanwhile, Doña Gracia was continuing her great work on behalf of her fellow Marranos, helping them to escape from Portugal, assisting them to transfer their property and enabling them to settle in the ever-open haven of Turkey or, under her own aegis, in Ferrara. It was with this work especially that her grateful contemporaries associated her. One entire section of the Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel is devoted to Doña Gracia's work in organizing the flight of the refugees from Portugal.



* I have become less certain about this since writing these lines. There is a possibility that the name of Nasi was not adopted before reaching Constantinople (as, in fact, one contemporary observer states.) The books dedicated to her at Ferrara under the name Doña Gracia Nasi were not, in fact, published until after she left that city, even though prepared before: and the medal bearing this name does not seem to be anterior to the year 1555. [back]


From: Roth, Cecil. Doņa Gracia of the House of Nasi. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1948.




Subscribe to the JHOM mailing list for updates.

Contact us

Tell a friend