Generally speaking in England and much of Northern Europe, the usual way of reserving the sacrament was not to place it in a tabernacle on the altar but place it in a box or pyx suspended above the principal altar. The rites of Durham has a wonderful description of the ‘hanging pyx’ that existed in Durham Cathedral on the eve of the Reformation:
‘Over the high altar, did hang a rich and most sumptuous Canapie for the Blessed Sacrament to hang within it, which had two irons fastened in the French Peere (reredos), very finely gilt, which held the canopied over the midst of the High Altar, (that the Pix did hang in it, that it could not move and stir,) whereon did stand a Peliccan, all of silver, … and a marveilous faire Pix that the holy blessed Sacrament did hange in, which was of most pure fine gold, most curiously wrought with goldsmith worker. And the white cloth that hung over the Pix was of very fine lawne, all embroydered and wrought about with gold and red silke, and four great and round knopes of gold, marvelous and cunningly wrought, with great tassells of gold and redd silke hanginge at them, and at the four corners of the white lawne cloth, and the crooke that hung within the cloth that the pix did hang on, was of gold, and the cords, that did draw it upp and downe, was made of fine white strong silke.’
What a glorious thing it must have been. It probably resembled the hanging pyx that appears in the manuscript illustration above, with a tent-like canopy covering the metal pyx itself. This tent like structure appears quite often in medieval manscripts and it was probably the commonest form of canopy.