The marvellous splendour of the Medieval abbeys and cathedrals in Europe, and in a somewhat lesser degree in Great Britain was derived from a very lavish use of decorative material and the marvellous carvings with which it was enriched. Rich tapestries and the embroidered robes of the priests added to the wonderful carving of the woodwork of the interiors of these places worthy of sustaining the pomp of the worship in pre-Reformation times. The altars were aglow with vessels of gold and silver, in the making of which many jewels were used. It was then that Henry VIII looked with an avaricious eye upon the wealth of the church, and felt aggrieved at the increasing power of the Cardinals of Rome. With one fell swoop came the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the wholesale plundering of abbey lands and church property and wealth. The plate and jewels the religious orders possessed were confiscated, and much of the silver was melted up or re-made, and some of the more suitable pieces were converted to secular uses.

Notwithstanding the losses sustained some noted pieces of plate were hid away, and some few very ancient bits are still known. Many of these owe their preservation to historical or personal associations, a few also were saved out of curiosity because of their very ancient origin, obvious from the ornament upon them if not from oral tradition connected with them. One of the notable relics of these very early times is the Malmesbury ceborium.