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It was one of four Carolingian foundations intended to establish Christianity in the region of the Odenwald (the others were the monasteries of Lorsch, Fulda and Mosbach). It is said to take its name from Amor, a disciple of Saint Pirmin, regarded as the founder. The abbey was consecrated in 734. By 800 it had become a Reichsabtei, the abbot being directly answerable to Charlemagne. Pepin united it to the Bishopric of Würzburg, although control of it was much disputed by the Bishops of Mainz.
The abbey played an important role in the clearing and settlement of the vast tracts of forest in which it was located, and in the evangelisation of other areas, notably Saxony: many of the abbots of the missionary centre of Verden had previously been monks at Amorbach. It was severely damaged by the invasions of the Hungarians in the 10th century.
In 1525 the buildings were stormed and plundered during the Peasants' War by forces under the command of Götz von Berlichingen. During the Thirty Years' War the abbey was attacked by the Swedes in 1632, was dissolved for a short time between 1632 and 1634 and the lands taken by a local landowner, and although it was afterwards restored and the lands regained, there followed a period of decline and poverty.
In 1656 the Bishops of Mainz and Würzburg reached agreement: Amorbach was transferred into the control, both spiritual and territorial, of the Archbishop of Mainz, and significant building works followed. In the 1740s the site was completely refurbished in the Rococo style, of which it remains a significant example, under the supervision of Maximilian von Welsch. Further extensive construction and decoration was undertaken in the 1780s, including in 1782 the installation of what was at the time the biggest organ in the world.
The abbey was dissolved finally in 1803 and given with its lands to the dispossessed Princes of Leiningen, who still live there. Jurisdiction over the abbey and its territories passed to the government of Bavaria in 1816.
The Stumm organ of Amorbach Abbey was filmed in November 2005 in performances by John Scott Whiteley of music by J S Bach. The films will form part of the BBC's 21st Century Bach series, for transmission in 2007 and subsequent DVD release.