Rebecca of Salerno


BOOK I in The Journey of Rebecca

Rebecca Gratz

Rebecca Gratz (Sir Walter Scott’s inspiration)

When Rebecca leaves her beloved England, and the Christian knight Ivanhoe who had captured her heart, she vows to dedicate her life to the healing arts. Her father has other ideas. After they land in Spain, he plans to hire a matchmaker to find Rebecca a husband—and quickly. However, when Rebecca discovers the medical school in Salerno welcomes men and women whether Jewish, Christian, or Moslem—it seems her personal dreams can come true.

Under its benevolent Norman rulers, Salerno, like the whole Kingdom of Sicily, is a haven of tolerance rare in the era. Jews, Christians, and Moslems live together in fruitful harmony. Just as Rebecca arrives in Salerno in 1195, however, this cultural climate shifts, as a consequence of the Hohenstaufen conquest.

Salerno medical schoolStill, Rebecca finds Salerno a more a congenial setting than almost anywhere else for a Jewish woman, especially one who longs for a less-than traditional path. With a chance to attend school and at the same time to enjoy a profound friendship with the powerful Rafael Lopes-Dias, a translator of current writing into Hebrew, Rebecca’s life seems complete.

The unwelcome arrival of crusaders, raw and angry after their cursed conquest of Christian Constantinople, changes her life forever. Suddenly, chaos swirls in Salerno. The crusaders, protected by both the pope and the royal regent, threaten the safety of the Jewish community.Constantine lecturing in Salerno

When a newly arrived rabbi is arrested for the murder of a crusader, Rebecca and Rafael unite to seek justice by identifying the true killer. Their quest takes them into the homes and businesses of the highest levels of Salerno’s Jewish community, giving a fascinating peek into the hidden social mores of this closed community.

What will the Jewish inhabitants of Salerno do to protect themselves from the impending danger? Rebecca and Rafael find themselves in the midst of a philosophical and faith-based dilemma. Can they discover the true culprit in time to protect their beloved community from the crusaders’ wrath?


As promised, Aunt Liora and the family fairly overwhelmed us with the warmth and abundance of their welcome. Good food, drink, and, above all, love. How easy it would have been to wrap myself in the blanket of their affection and caring and just sink into the life my family so much wanted for me. But I was determined to hold onto my vision and find a way to make it come true.

We were sitting down to dinner on our second night when Uncle Carlos announced that we would be joined by another guest, Rafael Lopes-Dias. Inwardly I groaned, thinking this might be the first candidate to be presented by a matchmaker. But Uncle Carlos went on to say, “Rafael has come from Salerno, home of the great medical school where Jews can study—even Jewish women.”

These words startled me more than a shower of cold water. “Is this real?” I whispered.

Uncle Carlos nodded. “You know we are building a Hebrew hospital here in Barcelona. We hope we can make a connection with the fine medical school in Salerno to hire some of their graduates.”

My excitement grew with each word he said, as if he had seen into my fantasy and would help me fulfill it. “I would dream of going to such a school.” My words came out nearly as a sigh.

Aunt Liora frowned. “Now that we have gotten you here, you cannot turn around and leave us. We want you to stay here with us.”

Of course I would need to proceed slowly to keep peace in my family. But first I needed to hear about this wondrous place. When Rafael Lopes-Dias arrived at the table, it was all I could do not to jump at him to answer my many questions. A widower in his thirties whose children were being raised by his sisters in Barcelona, I found out Senor Lopes-Dias had completed the course at the Scuola Medica Salernitana but was not a practicing physician. How can someone achieve such a level of education and then not use it? He throws away what I yearn for with all my soul.

My heart trembled and my breath caught. No question, he was a most comely man. Yet there were other comely men. Perhaps it was something about his presence and the way his dark eyes immediately took my measure. Or perhaps it was just that he would connect me to my heart’s new desire.