The Woman who defied the Inquisition

This series focuses on the life of Doña Gracia (1510–1569). In the sixteenth century, as the Pontifical Inquisition strikes Portugal, the influential banker and merchant Francisco Mendes dies. His 25-year-old widow Gracia is left with not only his company, but also a secret mission: to lead an underground resistance against the Inquisition and bring persecuted Jews and Jewish converts to Christianity (Conversos) to safety. Hounded by the increasingly violent persecution and pogroms led by the Inquisition, Doña Gracia flees Lisbon and makes her way across Europe. Her story takes place against the background of some of the most remarkable events in history.

Despite always facing persecution, torture and the threat of death, she uses the family assets to build a network that helps thousands of Jews to flee places infected with deadly Antisemitism and the associated violence against and murder of Jewish people – that horrific phenomenon that comes and goes like a virus across all of Europe.

Her escape takes her right across Europe, into the path of danger and many obstacles. Gracia is only briefly able to pause for breath, such as in Antwerp, Venice and Ravenna, before the Inquisition’s bloodhounds start to gain a foothold here, too. But it is not only the Vatican and the Inquisition who are on her tail: she also faces opposition in the form of envious competitors, even from within her own family. It is a life lived between persecution and protection, struggle and peace, and love and hate.

At the end of her life, she and thousands of Jews ultimately find a safe haven in the Ottoman Empire. Its ruler, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, allow them to found a Jewish community in Constantinople – modern-day Istanbul – which still exists today. Doña Gracia even convinces him to grant the refugees access to newly conquered areas in the south, what is hailed as the Promised Land of the Jews in Palestine and today’s Israel. The new Jewish colony soon begins to flourish. Doña Gracia also goes there to honor the promise she offered her dying husband many years ago in Lisbon: to bury his remains on the Mount of Olives.

When Doña Gracia dies in Jerusalem, she leaves behind one of the greatest legacies ever left by a woman in the history of Europe. Gracia continues to be revered by her people as ‘La Señora’ to this day.

Screenplay: Gavin Scott (War and Peace)
Idea and Executive Producer: Uwe Kersken & William J. MacDonald (Rome)
Screenplay financed by Film- & Medienstiftung NRW
Co-production with Cinemate, Portugal.