The Long Journey of Gracia Mendes

$58.00 / €48.00 / £42.00
$21.95 / €18.95 / £15.95
Kindle edition is available through Amazon
Publication date: 
161 pages, 5 color and 12 black and white illustrations and maps

The historical biography of a true Jewish heroine in her day, Gracia Mendes. Born in 1510 in Portugal, the book details this woman's extraordinary personality until her death in 1569 in Constantinople (today's Istanbul). Her life exemplified a perseverance by the Jewish culture to survive and triumph even in the worst of conditions. 

As a young girl, Gracia secretly married successful Jewish spice trader, Francisco Mendes. But at age 27 she became a widow, yet she went on to raise her children and run the family business all on her own. 

Her travels led her through Antwerp, Venice, Ferrara, Ragusa, and finally to Constantinople, from where the Ottoman Empire dominated former Byzantium territories and offered shelter for battered Conversos (converted Jews). 

The text recounting the last fifteen years of Gracia's life at the center of the Empire is particularly revealing. Birnbaum's biography has the unique distinction of being the first among many studies to pay tribute to a woman during this period. It is also one of the first titles to pay equal attention to the lives of the Conversos in Christian West Europe and in the Muslim East.

The Family Tree

Chapter 1 Introducing the Family

Chapter 2 A Short History of the Conversos
Inquisition in Spain and Portugal
New Attitudes Toward Conversos
The Special Status of the Rich
Changing Places – Changing Names

Chapter 3 Life in Sixteenth-Century Antwerp
Converso Life in Lisbon and Antwerp
The Family Business
Pepper and the Mendes Wealth
The Move to Antwerp
Gracia’s Official Entry into the Family Business
Diogo is Accused of Judaizing
The Emperor’s Blackmail
The Emperor’s Matchmaking

Chapter 4 Gracia in Venice
Conditions in Ferrara and Mantua
A Sisters’ Quarrel
The Alleged Kidnapping
Inquisition by Proxy
Costa’s Defense
Brianda Before the Inquisition

Chapter 5 Gracia and Jewish Patronage in Sixteenth-Century Ferrara
The Ferrara Bible
Meeting an Old Friend
The Medal Controversy
The Growing Intolerance in Ferrara

Chapter 6 In Business with Ragusa
Jews in Ragusa
The Ragusan Deal

Chapter 7 The Ottoman Empire and the Jews
The Legal Status of the Jews
Social life and Customs
The Western View of Levantine Jews
Gracia’s Arrival in the Ottoman Empire
Who is a Jew?
The Mendes-Nasi Enterprise
The Crises in Ancona and Pesaro
Leading the Boycott Against Ancona
New Faces in Constantinople
Gracia and the Resettling of Safed
Jewish Patronage in the Ottoman Empire
The Decline of the House of Mendes-Nasi


Appendix: Money, Prices, Values
List of Illustrations