Version classiqueVersion mobile
OpenEdition Books

The Long Journey of Gracia Mendes

 | 
Marianna D. Birnbaum

Chapter 1. Introducing the family

Texte intégral

1This book is about Señora Gracia Mendes (Luna), the wealthy sixteenth-century widow of Portuguese origin who, for many decades, while a practicing Christian, remained a secret Jew. Her career and that of her family spanned the map of Europe, from the Iberian Peninsula to Italy (where she later openly embraced Judaism) to Turkey and to Ottoman-ruled Palestine.

  • * Since contemporary European sources referred to the Ottoman Empire as “Turquie,” I am using both n (...)

2Part of Gracia’s family arrived in the mid-1490s in Portugal, where she was born in 1510 and where, at the age of eighteen, she married another secret Jew, Francisco Mendes, a wealthy businessman. The two families were most probably related. The couple had a daughter whom they named Reyna. Following her husband’s death in 1536, Gracia moved her daughter and other members of her family out of Portugal, and after a long and perilous journey, reached safety in Turkey.*

3Whereas much is known about Gracia’s life, her family’s genealogy is less well documented. Although it is generally accepted that her parents arrived in Portugal from Aragon, neither their places of birth, nor their residence in Spain can be assigned to a definite locality.

  • 1 For more on Illueca, see Encarnacion Marin Padilla, “La villa de Illueca, del señorio de los Marti (...)

4In all probability the name “Luna” represents the mother’s side of Gracia’s family. It can be found as a last name in Illueca where in the fifteenth century Christians, Jews, and Moors lived together.1 Located on the northern slopes of the “Sierra de la Virgen,” on the River Aranda in the vicinity of Gotor, Illueca lies 48 kilometers from Zaragoza and 45 kilometers from Calatayud. In the fifteenth century, the village belonged to the Baronate of the de Lunas who also owned the village Arandig and several other smaller settlements. Probably it was Juan Martinez de Luna IV under whom the Luna ancestors of Gracia lived.

5In 1450, there were 21 Jewish families living in Illueca. The number of Jews decreased during the 1460s and 1470s, but increased later to around 30. The community had a rabbi, who also acted as notary. There are no records of a hospital or a Jewish cemetery. In 1453, a Jewish butcher shop, Carniceria de los judios, opened whose owner, among his many other duties, also performed circumcisions. Between 1450 and 1470, an active Jewish congregation developed, with a synagogue and organized tax collecting.

6Although Illueca had a number of Jews, few conversos—those Jews who during the Inquisition had been forced to accept Christianity—can be found with evidence regarding their earlier Jewish names. During the baptismal ceremonies the converso’s Jewish name was dropped. Frequently, the so-called New Christian received the name of one of the señores of the region, who stood as the New Christian’s sponsor.

  • 2 “Es posible que el corredor cenverso y vecino de Zaragossa, Jaime de Luna, y su hija Beatriz de Lu (...)
  • 3 Padilla, p. 91.

7A record from 1432 mentions a certain Jaime de Luna, a man from Illueca, and his daughter, Beatriz de Luna.2 It is possible that Jaime de Luna, a converso from the vicinity of Zaragoza, and his daughter, who later married Jaime Ram, a Zaragozan, had lived in the same “señorio” as Gracia’s family. Hence, the shared name. In addition, a record of 1412 mentions a Doña Brianda de Luna, the widow of Don Luis Cornel.3

  • 4 See Herman Kellenbenz, “I Mendes i Rodriques d’Evora e i Ximenes nei lore rapporti commerciali con (...)

8These two converso girls, Beatriz (Gracia) and Brianda (Reyna) Luna, were the younger sisters of Doctor Agostinho Miques (formerly Samuel Micas). The royal physician, who taught medicine at the University of Lisbon, Miques was also called “Nasi” or prince. The latter appellation must have been attached to the family name, denoting the social status he had enjoyed among his coreligionists before his baptism. At least one historian believed that Gracia’s and Brianda’s brother remained in Portugal and lived as a Christian.4

  • 5 See especially vols. 1–2. Nov. 17, 1299 (37) Barcelona: Benvenist Avenbenvist of Zaragoza.
    No date, (...)
  • 6 A Bienbenist Abenpessat was functioning as “adelantado” (the head of the Jewish community). He is (...)

9Most probably, Gracia’s own family was distantly related to the Benvenistes. Based on the information in The Jews in the Crown of Aragon, the name Benvenist, or its variants, was popular in Jewish and converso circles throughout the Iberian Peninsula.5 The Benvenists lived in Barcelona, Zaragosa, Valencia, and in smaller places such as Morvedre or Lerida. There were Benvenists living in Perpignan and Villafranca. Moreover, there were also Benvenistes living in the Illueca area.6

  • 7 For more on Abraham Benveniste see, Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem, 1971), 4.555.

10The Benvenistes of Aragon were an old and respected Jewish family. In the twelfth century, Nasi Isaac Benveniste, was the physician of the king of Aragon. He transmitted his title to his son Seshet. In the fourteenth century, Joseph Benveniste, a member of the same family was the counselor of Alphonso XI of Castile. The most revered member of the family was Abraham Benveniste (1406–54), “court rabbi” in Castile, who restored John II’s shaky fiscal administration. He acted as tax farmer general of the realm. As “Rab de la Corte,” he was chief justice of the Jews, appointed by the king.7

  • 8 Roth suspected that their father converted at a different time and received the name Henrique Núñe (...)
  • 9 Capitais e capitalistas no comércio de espeçiaria: o eixo-Lisboa-Antuérpia (1501-1549): Aproximacã (...)

11Most probably, it was his direct descendant who chose to migrate to Portugal where he and his sons converted to Christianity. Semah, the older son, took the name Francisco Mendes, and his younger brother, Meir, became Diogo Mendes.8 A. A. Marques de Almeida calls the Mendes family “uma importante familia judaica de Aragão que se refugion em Portugal em 1492.”9 Just how important they were will be demonstrated in the following chapters.

Notes

* Since contemporary European sources referred to the Ottoman Empire as “Turquie,” I am using both names.

1 For more on Illueca, see Encarnacion Marin Padilla, “La villa de Illueca, del señorio de los Martinez de Luna, el en siglo xv: sus judios,” Sefarad 56 (1996): 1:87–126, 2:233–75. Padilla’s study was based on notary deeds kept in the archives of notarial protocols of Zaragoza, Calatayud, and La Almunia de Doña Godina. In his marriage with Deanira de Lanuza, Don Pedro Martinez de Luna had two sons: Don Juan and Don Jaime. After the death of Juan, his son became the owner of the region.

2 “Es posible que el corredor cenverso y vecino de Zaragossa, Jaime de Luna, y su hija Beatriz de Luna, criada “a soldada” del tambien corredor zaragozano Jaime Ram, procedieran del señorio de los Martinez de Luna, dado su apellido” (Padilla, p. 374, footnote 274, referring to the year 1432.) Jaime de Luna’s name appears for the last time in 1492. The best-known man by the name of Luna was Alvaro de Luna, royal constable, in 1449. For more on him, see N. Round, The Greatest Man Uncrowned: A Study of the Fall of Don Alvaro de Luna (London, 1986).

3 Padilla, p. 91.

4 See Herman Kellenbenz, “I Mendes i Rodriques d’Evora e i Ximenes nei lore rapporti commerciali con Venezia,” Gli Ebrei e Venezia, secoli xivxvii, ed. Gaetano Cozzi (Milan, 1987), p. 152. There are also records regarding a Mendes family in Evora. In Venice, during a hearing at the office of the Inquisition, Brianda Mendes claimed that she had been forcibly baptized. There was a small community in Aragon, close to Eje, also called Luna. It does show a Jewish settlement during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. See Haim Bernart, Atlas of Medieval Jewish History (New York, London, 1992), map 42.

5 See especially vols. 1–2. Nov. 17, 1299 (37) Barcelona: Benvenist Avenbenvist of Zaragoza.
No date, 1302 (97) Aljama de Valencia/Barcelona. Benvenist (no date) his “genre” and his “fill.”
Feb. 1314 (163) Valencia: Jusef Benvenist and Benvenist Issac Rossel of Barcelona.
Aug. 10, 1324 (290) Barcelona: Jusef Benvenist of Montblanch.
Nov. 2, 1324 (302) Lerida: Benvenist Cofe and his mother, of Morvedre.
No date (494) Vilafranca del Penedes[?], Benvenist Izmel of Villafranca, to change residence to Barcelona with his son Samuel.
Oct. 20, 1328 (601) Barcelona: Benvenist Ismael, physician -dead.
Oct. 20, 1328 (602) Barcelona: Samuel Benvenist, son of the physician.
Jan. 24, 1329 (617) Tarazona: Benvenist ca Porta of Tortosa.
Aug. 3, 1340 (937) Barcelona: Issach Benvenist dead, left a widow and a son, also named Issach.
Apr. 13, 1341 (957) Barcelona: Benvenist Bionjuha de Caballeria of Barcelona.
Oct. 24, 1359 (1126) Cervera: Benvenist Bonjuha.
Aug. 11, 1369 (1135) Barcelona: Heirs of Samuel Bonjuha of Cervera, son Bonjuha of Besalu.
Aug. 9, 1375 (1146) Barcelona: widow of Samuel Benvenist, called “Bi Benvenist” of Barcelona.
Aug. 23, 1389 (1202) Monzon: Benvenist de la Caballeria.
May 27, 1390 (1206) Perpignan: Benvenist Bonet and Bonjuha Bonet.
Dec. 20, 1457 (1344) Tortosa: Benvenist Bubo.

6 A Bienbenist Abenpessat was functioning as “adelantado” (the head of the Jewish community). He is probably the same man who is referred to as “el judio de Illueca Bienbenist Abenpessat” under the lordship of Jaime Martinez de Luna (Padilla, p. 108 and p. 354). He is mentioned in 1451, in connection with a contract. Still on March 17, 1488, a man named Mosse testified in Illueca to having seen Fernando Lopes, a converso, and his father, eating meat “degollada de judios” (slaughtered in the Jewish manner) in the house of Bienbenist Abenpessat.

7 For more on Abraham Benveniste see, Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem, 1971), 4.555.

8 Roth suspected that their father converted at a different time and received the name Henrique Núñez at his baptism. He is not identical with the informer of the same name in Cecil Roth’s Doña Gracia of the House of Nasi (Philadelphia, 1948), p.10.

9 Capitais e capitalistas no comércio de espeçiaria: o eixo-Lisboa-Antuérpia (1501-1549): Aproximacão a um Estudo de Geofinança (Lisboa, 1993), p. 23 and p. 29, respectively. A man by the name of Mendes, who might have been related to Francisco’s family, is Alvaro Mendes, a mapmaker of John III. He emigrated to Turkey in 1585 and, allegedly changed his name to Abraham Suseyet, or Solomon Abenaes, or Abenaish. See Encyclopedia Judaica, 2.63ff.

© Central European University Press, 2003

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540

Acheter

Volume papier

amazon.fr