JHOM - Personalities - Dona Gracia

Pious Jewess that she was, Doña Gracia had long intended to end her days in the Holy Land, so as to be laid at the last by her husband's side in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. She even had a mansion prepared at Tiberias as her residence, and obtained from the sultan special privileges with the object of creating a new and self-dependent Jewish settlement there paying, it was said, 1,000 ducats yearly for the concession.

In 1565, a Portuguese visitor found that the Jewish inhabitants of the Holy Land were all excited at the prospect of the immediate arrival of the Señora, as she was generally called even here. But, like lesser humanity, she apparently delayed the grand climacteric too long, so that at the last she was not vouchsafed even a Pisgah-sight of the land of her mystical dreams and ideals.[1]

Precisely when and where her death took place is unknown. It is referred to, apparently as something recent, in the early summer of 1569,[2] and it probably did not take place long before. The news of the Señora's death was received throughout the Jewish world with a sense of profoundest grief. Everywhere memorial services were held, such as were seldom known among Jews at that time except on the occasion of the death of rabbis of profoundest learning.

Saadiah Lungo, poet-in-ordinary of the Salonica community, celebrated her in a lengthy but inchoate elegy the only one in all his works dedicated to a woman-in which he placed her life's work in the setting of Marrano activity and tribulation:

Of all we treasured most we stand bereft
Throughout the lands of thy dispersal, Ariel;
And every mother-town in Israel
Weeps for the fate of those in anguish left.
Gone is the glitter;
My mourning is bitter,
And broken my heart.


[1] It is impossible to be dogmatic about this. The last thing we hear about Doña Gracia (1565) is that she was expected in Palestine, and although there is no actual record that she arrived, the possibility must not be ruled out. It is perhaps significant that in the extremely detailed vision of the Nasi family in the "Treatise on Dreams" by her admirer, Moses Almosnino, at the close of his Regimiento de la Vida which was published in 1564, Doña Gracia does not figure; possibly she had by now left Turkey. [back]

[2] In Almosnino's memorial sermon in commemoration of her former opponent, Rabbi Joshua Soncino, delivered on 10th Sivan, 1569 (in his collection of addresses, Maamez Koah, Venice, 1588, p. 64 ff.). [back]


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

Map of Travels or DONA GRACIA Introduction



Subscribe to the JHOM mailing list for updates.

Contact us

Tell a friend