In 1967, as part of the Communist campaign to make Albania an “atheist state”, the 400-year-old church at LaÃ§ was destroyed with explosives. Until then it had borne an inscription recording its consecration in 1557 by “Giovanni Bruni, Archbishop of Bar”.
Bruni’s extraordinary life (and more extraordinary death) feature in a remarkable new book by Sir Noel Malcolm, the Oxford historian. With unpublished manuscript evidence, it paints a portrait of the Bruni family, before and after the battle of Lepanto in 1571. What distinguishes the book is the way it integrates their tale into the power struggle between Spain and France, Venice and Rome, and, that behemoth of the Levant, the Ottoman Empire, ruled from 1566 to 1574 by Selim II (pictured here). The soldiers, spies and clerics of the Bruni family were among the Agents of Empire of the title. I can’t tell you how good it is, a future classic. My purpose here, though, is not to review the book but to mention a single fascinating chapter.
Giovanni Bruni was an Albanian speaker, born at Ulcinj (now in Montenegro), then part of Venetian Albania. In the little city of Bar, of which he became Archbishop in 1551, there were 18 churches, with another 48 in the rural parts of the diocese, which extended into the regions beyond the coast occupied by the Turks. Among Bruni’s titles was Primate of Serbia. But, if his task was great, his income was pitiful.
Read it all.