Doña Beatriz De Luna was one of the wealthiest women of Renaissance Europe. She was widowed in her twenties, inheriting a fortune and a partnership in the House of Mendes banking family. She and her husband were secret Jews or Conversos, whose families had been forcibly converted to Christianity but who secretly maintained their commitment to Jewish life and tradition. Besides being a businesswoman, Doña Gracia also managed one of the largest refugee operations in European history, moving converso families out of Spain and Portugal into the Ottoman Empire, where they could openly practice their Judaism and where they were no longer under the threat posed by the Inquisition. At the same time, she was a high-profile refugee herself, moving from city to city as politics shifted. She eventually moved to Istanbul where she died in 1569.
Though she disappeared into oblivion almost immediately and remained hardly known for the subsequent 500 years, that is now changing, possibly due to a new sense of relevance among today's women. Indeed, Dona Gracia has become a a cult figure. She now has a Facebook page: www.facebook.com/donagraciaworldwide
The Turkish government sponsored a Dona Gracia evening in New York City and has also sponsored an exhibit in Lisbon. There have been lectures, articles and festivals in her honour all over Europe. The growing numbers of women in business and the professions who attend the programs identify with her ambition, courage and even personal loneliness. An Italian white wine has been named after her. The Israeli mint has produced a commemorative medal. She now has a museum in Tiberias, Israel devoted to her life and deeds. She remains an important and strong female role model for all Jewish women, wherever they are.