Deep within 450 forested acres in Arkansas wilderness, Little Portion Hermitage Monastery is the home of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity. Founded by Christian musician and author John Michael Talbot, the hermitage is open to the public for day visits and small group, multi-day retreats.
“It’s a little hidden gem,” said Brother John Marmion Villa, the monastery’s guest master. “You come down the driveway and the property opens up into a breathtaking view of the gardens, the chapel and the vistas from the valley. It was created in an effort to preserve solitude in a busy world.”
The grounds at Little Portion include acres of undeveloped, wooded land in a valley in the Ozarks with buildings scattered throughout. The Charity Chapel is the nexus of the property, where guests can pray or attend mass and other services. Surrounding the chapel are cloistered walkways and vast gardens.
While groups up to 45 people are welcome, most of the visitors to Little Portion are individuals or small groups. Guests can take guided tours, have private spiritual conferences or take part in monastic life.
Many visitors to Little Portion opt for individual day retreats, joining the 14 monastic residents there for peaceful prayer, but they have several small cabins available for overnight guests. “There are a number of residential buildings scattered throughout the property, which we call hermitages,” said Villa. “Most guests stay in the quadplex, a family-style dwelling that has bedrooms, bathrooms, a kitchenette, and a dining and living area. The units are all in one building, but they’re separated and the laundry room divides the building.”
The units have heat and air conditioning, full baths with tubs, and full-size and twin-size bed options. For older guests or those with limited mobility, the best option is coordinated with the on-site planner. Though the quadplex units have kitchenettes, some rooms do not, but there are also group dining options for all meals.
Guests are treated like family and served homestyle meals with some dietary accommodations possible. They eat with residents in a shared dining room. Most often, visitors to Little Portion aren’t large faith-based groups but rather are individual, family or small group retreats.
“We rarely host large groups, it’s more like 45 strangers coming together coincidentally,” Villa said.
Things to See and Do
Little Portion is fairly remote, with the nearest town, Berryville, about a half hour’s drive away. Many guests like to pay a visit to Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, designed by E. Fay Jones, an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright’s and constructed in his signature Prairie Style. Also in Eureka Springs, “The Great Passion Play” is a live, large-scale production chronicling the last week of Jesus’ life. The property also has several other attractions, like a museum and Holy Land exhibit. Also in the vicinity are Cosmic Cavern and Onyx Cave Park, two caves open to the public for tours, along with many area hiking trails.
Fans of pop culture will want to visit the Walmart Museum in Bentonville, set up like a vintage five-and-dime, with a soda fountain, nostalgic candy and Sam Walton’s original wood-paneled office. Art lovers won’t want to miss Crystal Bridges, the free art museum founded by Walmart heiress Alice Walton. Situated on 120 acres, the museum features five miles of hiking trails and works by artists ranging from Norman Rockwell to Georgia O’Keeffe.
Visitors to Little Portion follow the schedule of hermitage residents, including a schedule of morning prayer, liturgical services and communion, shared meals and quiet contemplation.
“While there’s no expectation of volunteering labor while they’re here, if guests want to help, they’re welcome to,” Villa said. “We give guests the time and space to seek the Lord in silence. The emphasis here is to provide respite in quiet and solitude to hear the Lord’s voice and being a part of the monastic family for the time they’re here.”
If guests choose to do volunteer work while they’re visiting, they can pull weeds, wash dishes, cut vegetables from the garden, split logs and stack wood — any type of maintenance activity needed.
“You can feel a little stir crazy if you’re not used to being in silence alone, and we keep a balance of work and prayer for that reason,” said Villa. “The longer I’m here, I am learning that doing work at the hermitage is a type of prayer — to put in the work to be able to reap the fruits. Our work is a manifestation of prayer.”
Beyond scheduled activities, guests can pray, read, sit in silent contemplation, and stroll the property and gardens.
In 2008, a fire at the Little Portion Hermitage destroyed the original chapel and much of the facility, including the kitchen. Viola Talbot (who is married to John Michael Talbot) began an effort to feed the 35 residents living there at the time. One of the things she started making was granola, which was so popular with residents and guests that they began to ask for custom orders to take home or give as gifts. She accompanied her husband on his tours, selling her baked goods along with his merchandise. Today, Little Portion Bakery sells Viola’s Granola, St. Anthony’s Hermit Bars (made with raisins, nuts and molasses) and St. Clare’s Breakfast Cookies, plus Talbot’s Little Portion Cookbook. The bakery’s sales have helped fund the rebuilding of the chapel and other buildings.
Location: Berryville, Arkansas
Size: Nine hermitages on 450 forested acres
Capacity: Individuals and groups of up to 45