Born: August 10, 1556, Mengeringhausen (near Arolsen), Hessen, Germany.
Died: October 26, 1608, Hamburg, Germany.
Buried: Katharinenkirche, Hamburg, Germany (Hauptkirche St. Katharinen). Sadly, the church was almost destroyed in World War II, though it was restored in the 1950’s.
Son of a Lutheran clergyman, Nicolai studied theology at the Universities of Erfurt and Wittenberg from about 1575–1579.
He then became a pastor in Herdecke an der Ruhr, but was driven out by Spanish Counter-Reformation mercenary troops during the religious war.
He moved to Cologne, a thoroughly Catholic city, and was a preacher of the Lutheran congregations, who at that time met secretly in homes.
In 1588, Nicolai became Hofprediger (Court Preacher) and teacher of the Count of Waldeck in Wildungen, Hessen. In 1596, he became a pastor in Unna, Westphalia.
During his Unna years, plague killed hundreds of his parishioners. For consolation, Nicolai wrote his book Freudenspiegel des ewigen Lebens (Joyous Mirror of Eternal Life), edited in 1599. His two most famous hymns were published in that work.
In 1601, Nicolai became pastor at Katharinenkirche in Hamburg, where he served the rest of his life.