Cardinal Nicora was born in Varese (Italy) on 16 March 1937.
He studied in Milan and Rome, and was ordained on 27 June 1964.
He was appointed auxiliary Bishop of Milan on 16 April 1977 and consecrated on 28 May 1977 by Cardinal Colombo of Milan.
He oversaw the 1984 revision of the Concordat between Italy and the Holy See.
On 11 February 1987, he was placed at the disposition of the presidency of the Italian Episcopal Conference until he was made Bishop of Verona on 30 June 1992. He was again relieved of his pastoral duties to become Delegate of the presidency of the Italian Episcopal Conference for juridical affairs on 18 September 1997.
He was appointed President of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See in September 2002 and promoted to the rank of Archbishop.
Pope John Paul II elevated him to the College of Cardinals on 21 October 2003.