May is considered the month of the Virgin Mary, “Our Lady” or in French "Notre Dame", which is why Notre-Dame de Paris’ community historically honored her during this month. In 1449, the Brotherhood of Goldsmiths in Paris began making gifts to Notre-Dame Cathedral on May 1st to commemorate this occasion, which became known as "the Mays". These gifts ranged from a decorated tree to tabernacle decorations known as small Mays. Eventually they transitioned to large canvas paintings, known as great Mays, that were commissioned by the guild to offer to Notre-Dame Cathedral.
The tradition began in 1630 and one painting was offered each year between then and 1707, with the exception of 1683 and 1694.These paintings hung in the arcades of the nave, the choir, the braces, the ambulatory and the chapels. Some of the great Mays were lost during the French Revolution and the rest were seized in 1793 and sent to the Musée des Petits Augustins and the Louvre. Of the 76 Mays created, about 50 are still in existence.
Status of the Mays
Eleven hung on display in Notre-Dame Cathedral at the time of the fire in 2019. They will need to be restored to repair the damaged sustained during the fire and remove the lead dust that settled on the paintings.