When religious fervour, strengthened by superstition and ignorance, was at its height, self-imposed penalties and the avarice of ecclesiastics found employment for silversmiths, who encouraged the expenditure of vast sums on shrines and monuments. The tombs of saints were covered with costly metal work and many fine pieces were erected. With the Reformation came the loss of rare and costly shrines which were destroyed or diverted to other uses.
On these much of the best art of the silversmiths and gold-smiths of the Middle Ages had been lavished, and rare gems for the adornment of such shrines had been given into the custody of abbots and priests. From 1547 onward there was much pillage, not only of the smaller vessels but of the larger shrines and objects which until then had been respected by the boldest robbers. There is the shrine noted for its wonderful architectural beauty, and that which owes the admiration lavished upon it to the rare gifts of silver, gold and jewels by which it is adorned. Then again there are shrines which merely encase some smaller and much more valuable relic, or one venerated by its former associations. Many shrines have gone into the melting pot in the past, some few, however, have been saved by private influence and are cherished by their owners more for their antiquity than their sanctity ; other shrines have almost lost their identity and are now regarded as mere museum curios. There are some very interesting relics richly ornamented and wrought in silver in the National Museum in Dublin. One of the best known of these is the shrine of St. Patrick's Bell, described and illustrated in " Antique Jewellery and Trinkets" (a recent volume of the HOME CONNOISSEUR series). According to the catalogue of the Museum the upper portion of the shrine is of silver, a wonderful example of the art of fourteen hundred years ago. Jewels and much decorative craftsmanship are introduced in its construction, making it a fit case for the little bell which is a personal relic of St. Patrick. In the same Museum there are other ancient shrines, including that of St. Moedoc. These shrines enclose relics of the saints, that of St. Patrick preserving and honouring the Bell, said to have been used by the patron saint of Ireland, other shrines enclosing bones and other sacred mementoes of the saints, honoured men who were revered as time went on and their good deeds appreciated.