Wood carvings of the
Saga of the Volsungs: The Norse Epic of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer
from the portal of
Hylestad stave church, Setesdal, Norway, 12th century

7) Gunnar in the serpent pit.
The last panel shows Sigurd's brother-in-law, Gunnnar, in a snake pit playing a harp with his feet in an attempt to pacify the snakes. Fafnir's treasure is cursed. In his dying breaths, Fafnir warns Sigurd that his gold "will be the death of all that possess it." Sigurd, is unfazed by this and mentions the mortality of all men. After Sigurd's death at the hands of his three brother-in-laws, Gunnar, Hogni, and Guttorm, Fafnir's treasure is hidden by Gunnar, sunk to the bottom of the Rhine. Gudrun remarries, to Atli (Atilla the Hun), who is fascinated by the treasure and seeks to own it. Gunnar refuses to tell Atli its location, insisting, "Rather shall the Rhine rule over the gold than the Huns wear it on their arms." Atli orders Gunnar to be placed into a serpent pit, with his hands bound behind his back. Gudrun sends her brother a harp, and Gunnar is able to play "so exceedingly well" with his toes that he lulls the snakes to sleep, "except for one large and hideous adder" who kills Gunnar in a single strike.
6) Sigurd kills Regin.
In the sixth scene, Sigurd slays Regin with his sword. Sigurd, both warned by the birds of Regin's plot to betray him and encouraged by their assertions that great wealth, knowledge, and power would be his if he killed Regin preemptively and took possession of Fafnir's treasure, kills Regin. Sigurd, convinced by their counsel, states "It will not be my ill fate that Regin shall be my death. Rather, both brothers should go the same way." Sigurd decapitates Regin using the sword Gram.
5) Grani carries the treasure. The Birds.
In the fifth scene, Sigurd's horse Grani stands carrying a chest containing Fafnir's expansive treasure and two birds are depicted below Grani perched in the branches of a tree. The birds likely belong to the group whose speech Sigurd understood. This scene combines elements of the legend that took place before and after the slaying of Regin. After killing Regin, Sigurd mounts Grani, and rides to Fafnir's lair, where he finds "an enormous store of gold" from which he takes "many precious things" including the helm of terror and the sword Hrotti specifically. Sigurd loads large chests with the treasure onto Grani, despite expecting that it would be too large a load even for a pair of horses. Grani carries the treasure without difficulty, even refusing to move until Sigurd rides on his back, running "as if unencumbered."
4) Sigurd roasts the heart of the dragon.
The fourth scene, shows Sigurd roasting the heart of the dragon and sucking the dragon blood off his thumb while Regin appears to sleep. After slaying Fafnir, Regin asks Sigurd to take the dragon's heart and roast it for him. "Regin then lay down, drank Fafnir's blood and went to sleep." Sigurd himself then touched the heart to see if it was cooked, but the boiling blood ran down his hand, scalding him. When he drank the dragon's blood, he was able to hear "the speech of birds." From the birds, which are depicted in the fifth scene, he heard of Regin's plot to kill Sigurd, in "vengeance for his brother."
3) Sigurd slays Fafnir the dragon.
The third scene shows Sirgurd slaying the dragon with a sword. After forging the sword, Sigurd and Regin travel to Gnita-Heath in order to find Fafnir the dragon and take his treasure. There they dig "a pit in the path used by Fafnir," and then he crawled into it. When Fafnir came to the pit Sigurd emerged and "thrust his sword" into Fafnir, killing him.
1 & 2)
Sigurd and Regin forge the sword Gram.

The first scene shows Sigurd (who wears a helmet) and Regin (who has a beard) at the forge and the second scene shows Sigurd holding the mended sword. Sigurd, described as one of the best swordsmen, was urged by Regin to seek Fafnir the dragon's treasure. Regin then forged a sword with Sigurd at his side, providing assistance by keeping the fire going and providing water to cool the blade when needed. When the sword was completed they named it Gram. Sigurd tested the sword by striking it upon Regin's shield, which had a picture of Fafnir engraved on it. The blade broke, which prompted Regin to forge another sword out of the broken pieces of the first Gram. When it was completed Sigurd tested the blade once again on the shield with Fafnir's image, and this time it cut through the shield and also cut off the horn of the anvil.

Photos by John Erling Blad.
The church was dismantled in 1838, the portal is now in the Museum of Cultural History, Oslo.



Referenced on p.8 MAA - 396 - Medieval Scandinavian Armies (1): 1100-1300 by David Lindholm and Angus McBride
Two carved wooden panels from the 12th century timber church at Hylestad in Norway. They are believed to illustrate the stories of an ancient Nordic hero. (Universitetets Oldsaks Samling, Oslo)
A Scandinavian Militiaman from Armies of Feudal Europe 1066-1300 by Ian Heath based on Sigurd the Dragon Slayer
Sigurd kills Regin, Hylestad stave church door, Norway, 12th century



See also Knight on the Baldishol Tapestry, Hedmark, Norway, 12th century
Chessmen from Uig, Lewis, western isles of Scotland, c.1150-1175
Other Illustrations of Scandinavian Costume and Soldiers
Other 12th Century Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers