O₽A, O₽AE, Opera, Primaziale: what do these words mean?
by Federico Bonucci e Renato Mariani Pisano
Translation by Fátima Marques
Often, visitors - and even the Pisans themselves - ask the meaning of these words, which are found all over Piazza del Duomo, but also in other parts of the city.
Opera (from the Latin opus, operis) is the version of "fabbriceria" in Tuscany and Umbria. This word, with the variant "fabbrica", indicates an ecclesiastical entity, composed of clerics and laity, recognized in Italy as a legal person and subject to state supervision, destined, according to the norms of canon law, to administer the part of the patrimony of a church that should be used for the maintenance of the building and for religious expenses. "Fabbriceria" derives from fabbriciere, a person who supervises or cooperates in the activities of the fabbrica (factory), word that in turn derives from the Latin fabrica (domus), a building used as a workshop, in which the faber (blacksmith) works, or, better saying, the craftsman.
Opera is often abbreviated as O₽A, where the symbol ₽ (a cut P) is the medieval contraction ("Huiusmodi autem titulis subtuslinearibus sic breviantur sillabe" ...) of the syllable "PER": therefore, O₽A = Opera. We also find O₽AE (also in the graphic variant O₽E), which is simply the genitive: Operae, that is, of the Opera, belonging to the Opera. E is the phonetic transcription of the diphthong ae: Operæ. In Pisa the genitive form is used, whereas in Siena, for example, Opera is abbreviated to the nominative, O₽A. In tombstones or in ancient documents, the abbreviated sign identifies itself with a straight line or has its modified form assuming different meanings. All possibilities and combinations are presented in the anonymous medieval treatise "De cautelis breviationibus et punctis circa scripturam observandis". Some... jokers, in turn, say that O₽AE and O₽E would be the acronym (O.P.E.) of Opera Primaziale Edificando (or Edificicata, or Edificius and so on...). This is obviously absurd, since, as mentioned, O₽A and O₽AE are not acronyms - that is, words consisting of initials of other words - but contractions of a single word! It's a bit like when we write ppl for "people" or gratz for "congratulations", especially in text messages. However, the ₽ symbol is also found in other inscriptions, in Piazza del Duomo, both in Latin and Italian: for example, in a Campo Santo Monumentale tombstone it reads "DIO LO ₽DONI", that is, "God forgive him." In all these cases, O₽A (and O₽E) it does not read opa (ope) but opera (opere).
In regard to the origin and meaning of "opera," we must consider that in the ancient Church all the ecclesiastical patrimony was collected by the hands of the bishops. Their income, according to the determination of the popes Simplicio and Gelasio (V century), was divided in four parts, one for the bishop, the second for the clergy of the diocese, the third for the poor and the fourth for the church fabbrica (fourth, or portio fabricae). Portio fabricae was generally used for the maintenance of the building (sarta tecta) and for the practice of worship (luminaria ecclesiae). The Church regulated for the first time the institution of the fabbricerie at the Council of Trent (c.9, XII, ref.). In Italy, the legislation prior to the unification of the kingdom created many types of fabbricerie that still exist. They are: in Sicily, the Maramme, which assume different aspects according to place and which are regulated by legislation dating back to the fifteenth century; in Neapolitan, le capelle; in Tuscany le opere; in other places simply le fabbricerie. According to current legislation, they are secular organs on ecclesiastical delegations, which fall under the classification of "confessional organ". There are still several Operæ in Tuscany, such as the Opera della Metropolitana di Siena, the Opera di Santa Croce di Florence and the Opera della Primaziale Pisana.
Primaziale means Primate. In our case, the Primate is the Archbishop of Pisa, who has primacy over Corsica and Sardinia: the title derives from the alferic goods in those lands in the Middle Ages. The Cathedral of Pisa (that is where the archbishop has the cattedra - chair) is therefore the Church of the Primate, that is, the Pisana Church of Primacy and the institution that tutelage it is the Opera of the [Church] of Pisan Primacy. Primaziale, therefore, is an adjective relative to the Church, not to the Opera, so it is profoundly wrong to abbreviate saying Opera Primaziale. In fact, one can also say simply Opera del Duomo, equivalent and correct expression: in Pisa, Duomo, Cattedrale and Primaziale are synonymous.
Duomo derives from Domus Ecclesiae, the House of Assembly (Christian).
So, saying Opera Primaziale is like saying the Opera Duomo: nonsense.
And to say Opera Primaziale del Duomo is like saying Opera Duomo del Duomo: a double absurd...
Unfortunately, 99% of the Pisans themselves make that mistake, when they add an R, which is even more ridiculous: there we will have the primarziale, perhaps because of a similarity to the "martial art", which in this context makes no sense at all! ...
Based on what has been said, if you want to find a synonym for Opera, it is good to use the Italian correspondent, precisely Fabbriceria, given that when it is called Primaziale, one must understand only the Cathedral.
-"Where do you work?"
-"By the Prima(r)ziale": WRONG
-"By the Opera del Duomo", or "By the Opera della Primaziale": RIGHT.
We add that the abusive expression "Piazza dei Miracoli" attributed to D'Annunzio and its redundant tourist importance is wrong: in fact, the poet in his novel "Maybe Yes, Maybe Not" (Forse che sì, forse che no) defined our square as "meadow of miracles" and not "square".
Worse still, who makes this mistake and calls it “Campo (= field) dei Miracoli” (even many tour guides, be the paper ones, or those of flesh and blood! ...); in fact, this is the name of the place where Pinocchio sowed the coins of gold, convinced by the Cat and the Fox! Perhaps this confusion has something to do with the Piazza del Campo, which nevertheless lies in Siena, not in Pisa...
In short, let's call it simply by its real name: Piazza del Duomo, a place where the houses monuments and museums run by the Opera del Duomo, or Opera della Primaziale Pisana!
N.B. For information about the Opera del Duomo, the monuments of Piazza etc. see the official website:
Beside, some examples of the contraction O₽E, withdrawal of the monuments and the furniture of the Piazza del Duomo.
What does O₽AE mean?
Sandra Peschisolido and Alessandra Antonelli (french) e Giovanni Valdiserra and Elena Calzado (spanish).